Monday, October 20, 2014

Sacramental Marriage

Lately, I have read internet commentary pondering the topic of the Sacrament of marriage. I have seen it suggested that it is possible for Christians to marry among themselves and yet not have a Sacramental marriage (that is, receive the Sacrament of marriage) because, for example, Christians who totally lack faith cannot possibly receive or administer this Sacrament. Much could be said in response to this assertion, but I will only say, echoing Benedict XVI, that the issue requires greater study:
However Blessed John Paul II addressing this Tribunal 10 years ago, pointed out that “an attitude on the part of those getting married that does not take into account the supernatural dimension of marriage can render it null and void only if it undermines its validity on the natural level on which the sacramental sign itself takes place” (John Paul II, Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, 30 January 2003). With regard to this problem it will be necessary, especially in today’s context, to promote further reflection.
What I really want to do here is not engage in reflection on that particular issue (it's not really a topic for a blog) but to show how the Church has consistently and definitively stated that the marriage of Christians is necessarily a Sacrament. Consider:

Blessed Pius IX, The Syllabus of Errors, #66: "The sacrament of matrimony is nothing but an appendage to the contract and separable from it"; #73 "A true marriage can exist between Christians by virtue of a purely civil contract; and it is false to assert that the contract of marriage between Christians is always a sacrament." (To be clear, the Pope is saying that these statements are erroneous.)

Leo XIII, Arcanum, n. 23: "For such a distinction or, more truly, a severance (of the contract of marriage between Christians and the Sacrament), cannot be approved, since it has been proved that in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament; and so it cannot be a true and legitimate contract without being a sacrament, for this very reason."

Catechism of Pius X: "Q: Can the contract be separated from the sacrament in Christian marriage?

A: No, in marriage among Christians the contract cannot be separated from the sacrament, because, for Christians, marriage is nothing else than the natural contract itself, raised by Jesus Christ to the dignity of a sacrament."

Pius XI, Casti connubii, n. 39: "And since the valid matrimonial consent among the faithful was constituted by Christ as a sign of grace, the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons 'without it being by that very fact a sacrament.'" (quoting from the 1917 Code of Canon Law)

Gaudium et spes, n. 48: "Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state."

Code of Canon Law, c. 1055, §2: "...a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1601: "this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."

It may well be true that theologians and canonists will continue to considered whether "in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament." For now, though, it is wrong for any of us out here in the virtual pews to say that we can.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Long Must An "Annulment" Take?

There is a lot of talk these days about "streamlining" the formal nullity process. Some might be wondering why the process is now such that it has to take so long and need such streamlining. So, I thought I'd provide some insight into what the current procedure demands, as far as the length of time required before the case can be completed. The Code of Canon Law states that cases should be completed within 1.5 years (c. 1453). They don't have to take that long, though, and only in exceptional circumstances should they take longer. With that, let's look at the defined time limits. The references will be to articles in Dignitas connubii, the "handbook" Tribunals are to follow in these cases.

The first step in the process is the submission of a petition. It might take a person quite a while to move from the "I'm going to 'get an annulment'" decision to actually submitting this petition. The law, though, does not require any particular length of time so I'm not including that in the calculation. I'll "start the clock" at the point when the Court receives the petition. Once that happens, the Judicial Vicar is to constitute a tribunal (i.e., assign the potential case to a Judge, defender, notary, etc.) "as soon as possible" (118.1). This can happen the same day. The appointed Judge then, again, "as soon as possible", is to accept or reject the petition (119.1). Obviously, for this exercise, he will admit it. Since "it is advisable" that the Judge "hear the defender of the bond first", let's say this admission will happen within one week (cf. 119.2).

When the petition is accepted, the Respondent is to be "cited" at the same time (126.1, 127.1). Then, three weeks later (15 days), the Judge has 10 days to "formulate the doubt" (135.1). When this happens, the Parties have 10 days to contest it (135.4). After those 10 days, the "instruction" of the case begins (i.e., gathering evidence; 137). A note about these time periods: I'm counting them as "working days" (Monday-Friday).

The Instruction phase can be quite variable in duration. It depends on how quickly all the testimony can be collected. The law does not require any particular length of time, however. For the sake of this example, let's say it takes eight weeks to receive the testimony of the Parties and witnesses. After that, the process reaches "publication" and the Judge is to set a time limit for the Parties to examine the Acts (233.1). This limit tends to be three weeks, at the most. After that, the case is "concluded" and the briefs are to be filed, within the time limit set by the Judge (240.1). Again, this tends to be in the two-three week range. Since the defender and advocate(s) might want to respond to the other briefs, this process can be extended. In my opinion, it shouldn't be prolonged beyond four weeks.

After the briefs are completed, the case awaits the decision of the Judge. The law does not impose a limit here but it seems that one month (30 days) should be more than sufficient time for the Judge to come to a conclusion and write the Sentence. If the case is heard by collegiate panel (usually three judges) there is to be time for them to discuss the case after they have reached their own conclusions. Once this discussion takes place, the Sentence is to be composed, as above, within one month (249.5). With the Sentence, the case is complete in that Tribunal.

We're looking at about 27 weeks in this example, taking all the time limits to the maximum. It could certainly conclude even more rapidly.

If the case is decided in the affirmative, it will have to be "reviewed" by a higher Court. This process is usually completed by "ratification" and can easily be done within three months of the publication of the first Sentence (264-265). All together, then, this process took about 40 weeks. Of course, if the first Sentence is appealed or the second tribunal seeks further evidence, the process can be prolonged. Usually, there are no appeals.

As we can see, current, procedural law does not require a long, drawn-out ordeal. If Petitioners are prompt in submitting evidence, and witnesses are as well, and if the Tribunal is well-staffed with competent personnel, the current process can be adequately prompt. Unfortunately, some cases take two, three, four times as long but I don't think that ever happens because of procedural law--it happens in spite of it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Even Catholic Publications Can Be Wrong

October 13, 2014 Update


But, at least they are known correct erroneous articles or, as in this case, delete them entirely. In response, I'll delete my post, too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Many Errors Can You Pack Into One Article?

I don't usually bother to examine secular news stories about the Catholic faith and point out mistakes (it could be a full-time job) but I noticed one that was so chock-full of cluelessness I decided to say something. Here are a few samples:
  • "Annulment — a required process that invalidates an earlier marriage —..." Common mistake, even among Catholics.
  • "The church no longer excommunicates those who divorce, but Catholicism still recognizes only weddings approved by the church (either officiated by a priest in a Catholic church or approved by a person’s priest) and it sees marriage as ending only in death." Every assertion is problematic. Attempted marriage before a civil official--not divorce--did, at one time, result in excommunication. The Church recognizes a lot more marriages than that, although I don't know what "approved by a person's priest" means. Marriage can end in other ways.
  • "How closely priests — or other parishioners — police who comes for communion varies widely. After all, disqualifiers include a lot of things that are invisible and common, including “obstinate denial of a truth of the faith” or not going to confession since the last time you gossiped or skipped Mass." Sure, "gossip" is as serious as heresy. And I love the use of the word "police."
  • An anonymous person states that a marriage nullity process "tries to make everyone’s story fit into a framework that’s a lie — that I didn’t enter the first marriage with a sense of faith, or that [the marriage failed] because I didn’t keep up my faith." "Faith" or a lack thereof hardly ever has anything to do with a nullity case. It doesn't "make everyone's story fit into" anything. It examines an exchange of marital consent to see if there was anything which prevented it from resulting in a marriage.
It is indisputable that many Catholics are gravely mistaken on the fundamentals of the faith, as evidenced by this article. If the current Synod educates such people, great! ... But, if these people depend on secular news outlets for their information, I doubt they will ever learn much and little will change. It is truly an uphill battle because, as the people quoted in the article demonstrate, many Catholics are wrong about what the Church teaches and they don't care that they disregard the teaching of the Church.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are You a Fearful, Fundamentalist, Ideologue?

I am asking myself that question after reading the latest interview with Cardinal Kasper. He levels this criticism at those who disagree with his "proposal" regarding admitting the divorced/remarried to Holy Communion, no one else. I could take his words personally since I disagree with him on this point. I could be offended but maybe he's right: maybe I am all of those things. Maybe everybody is, when you dig a little deeper. That doesn't really matter, though. What matters is whether or not my position is right or wrong. If it's right and I hold to it, call me a fundamentalist ideologue all day long. Call me fearful, too. Is it wrong to fear that people are in danger of being in error and may end up in a not-so-nice place? If I'm wrong, show me that I'm wrong. The other adjectives don't really advance the conversation. Since the Cardinal used such adjectives, his commentary was not very persuasive.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Valid Baptism?

Is this a valid baptism? (The correspondent sent along a video showing the following.) A priest baptizes a baby by saying "John, I baptize you in the name of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit our comforter. And let the child say, amen." The child doesn't say anything, by the way, just cries. Furthermore, he uses his hand to put water on the child's head and only dips his hand in the water once, at the beginning. He basically wipes his wet hand on the child's head three times.


Regarding the method of applying the water: that would not make a baptism invalid. What is required is that water "flow" upon the skin: the water has to "wash." Even one drop of water can do this. Consequently, I think the baptism fulfilled the requirements of validity in that regard.


As for the form utilized by the priest: recall that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently declared that a baptism administered with the words "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer (or Liberator), and of the Sanctifier (or Sustainer)" is invalid. In order for a baptism to be valid, the Trinity must be invoked by their proper "names." The titles used in these formulas do not do this but instead refer to actions which each Person carries out in creation. In essence, these formulas do not invoke the Trinity and so they are invalid.


Fortunately, the priest in the video did invoke each Person. He then added other words but that addition, in my opinion, does not change the essential meaning of the words. If the essential meaning is maintained, the formula is valid. Therefore, I conclude that this would have been a valid baptism.


You know, every book about canon law has the "valid but illicit" nomenclature. Obviously, this baptism fits that description. If I ever write a book about canon law, though, I think I'll have to include a few categories that heretofore have not appeared in canonical literature: "valid but stupid", "valid but goofy", "valid but misleading", "valid but annoying", "valid but absurd." The list could go on.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is the Annulment Process "Healing"?

This is not a question anybody asked me but I often hear it said that the "annulment process" is a healing experience. Maybe some Petitioner's, even a majority, would say this. But, frankly, I am starting to cringe when I hear this statement from those who process nullity cases or encourage people to attempt to regularize their marital status. The bottom line is that we shouldn't promise everyone, and everyone shouldn't expect, that this process will be "healing." What if the decision ends up being "negative"? What if the process is unduly prolonged so that the Petitioner gives up or feels betrayed by the Church? What if the Respondent thinks the marriage was valid--will he/she find it to be a healing experience? If I, as a Defender of the Bond, argue for the validity of the marriage, am I standing in the way of "healing"?

This reminds me of one of the questions circulated in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the family, which asked: "Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved?" The "canonical practice" involving the nullity process is not supposed to "solve the problems" of anyone. It is not designed to "heal" anyone. It is carried out in order to arrive at the truth. If we advertise the process as one that "solves problems" or "heals", we are in danger of misleading people.

Perhaps it is best to simply tell people what the process is and why it has the form it has and not dangle such ideas (it's healing/solves problems) out there as canonical carrots, hoping they will entice the people to bite and present a nullity petition. If the completion of the process brings "healing" or "solves problems", great. Let the people themselves make that decision and announcement.