He was married in the Catholic Church and divorced. The annulment procedure was in progress. It was breaking their hearts but they planned to be married civilly (insurance coverage or some other benefit). It almost broke my heart to see them so torn. I was overwhelmed by the sincerity in their demeanor and in their words as they reassured me that they wanted to be married in the Church as soon as possible after the annulment was granted. They just desperately wanted me to bless their bands. A simple thing really. Oh, I presume a Canon lawyer would frown on my acquiescence. Yet, I remember my Canon Law professor in the seminary telling our class above all to be kind. Given their circumstances, I succumbed to their pain, their sorrow, and their commitment to validate their civil marriage. I felt compelled to explain to them, however, that I could not bless their civil or alleged marriage, but that I was blessing the bands of their love and their true desire to be married in the Church in the future. In the back of my mind I hungered for our Church to adapt processes that would accelerate compassionately and justly the work of annulments.
Although it is often a treacherous and foolish endeavor to apply simple solutions to a system or a particular situation about which one may know little or nothing of its complexity or nuance, I would suggest that the Church modify the Tribunal processes to include:
- An express lane for simple or incontrovertible cases.
- Each case must be resolved within the period of one year.
- Develop a method for nullifying a marriage where complete evidence is unattainable but moral certitude does exist.
- Discontinue the practice of automatic appeal.
In addition to these suggestions, there may be a feasible method of computerizing the telling circumstances of cases in which a nullity of the marriage had been granted and establishing a method of comparing elements within the testimony of a newly accepted case with those of the computerized elements. If the new case meets a set of criteria respecting these elements, an immediate decision regarding the sacramental nature of the marriage may be obtained.
Departing from my reveries, I wish to share some practical advice gained from an interview I had with the priest who is the Judicial Vicar( Chief Judge) of the Tribunal of my diocese. Perhaps, the most common source of delay in reaching a judgment on a case concerns the Marital History submitted by the Petitioner (the individual seeking the annulment). Particular attention must be paid to the guidelines provided to the petitioner by the Tribunal as an aid to writing the history of the marriage. The key point to remember is COMPLETENESS. The composition of the Marital History does not have to be lengthy, but it must strive to represent as complete a history of the marriage relationship as possible. In the interest of completeness and honesty, one ought not to focus solely on the ex?spouse. The Petitioner, himself or herself, may have contributed to or may be the primary source of grounds for considering the nullity of the marriage. Another factor concerns the Respondent (the ex?spouse). He or she needs to understand that he or she is not personally being attacked or under indictment and that cooperation with the process is something of mutual benefit.
Admitting that a mistake had been made often is difficult. One may be wallowing in a deep angst over whether or not greater effort would have saved the marriage. Yet the divorce has occurred and a world of possibilities presents itself. One can hope that the Church, as compassionate brothers and sisters, will work as one to reconcile or rectify the state of all struggling in the art of living and loving. According to a Swiss proverb, "Marriage is a covered dish." If inedible or just in need of seasoning, it is fare worthy of consumption.
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