- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On February 13, 2020
By Bai Macfarlane, Director Mary’s Advocates
The Salt Lake City Diocese newspaper writer, Linda Petersen, just published an article “Canon law on dissolution of marriage.”
She started by stating the “some Catholics are divorced and would like to remarry in the Church, and/or to be able to receive the sacraments.” This gives the impression that every divorced Catholic is not able to receive the sacraments. But that is not true. Only the party that reneged on the marriage promises by, for example, abandonment, adultery, or abuse would be unable to receive the sacraments.
After the offender ceased the offenses and went to confession with the firm resolve to amend his behavior, he could receive the Eucharist. The other “spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned” would not be denied Communion due to divorce (cf. CCC. 2386). The Catechism teaches that divorce is a grave offense against nature and immoral, and canon law delimits the special circumstances when divorce is tolerated (Catechism 2382-2386; canon 1151-1155, 1692).
With the non-profit organization Mary’s Advocates, I work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce. We publicize the Church’s canon law on separation of spouses that is intended to be implemented anytime spouses are separated. Canonical separation cases are different than nullity of marriage cases. We want people to take responsibility, at the time of separation, for things they have not properly done. The Salt Lake City Diocese newspaper described the most common grounds for nullity of marriage:
Here, the author is talking about canon 1095 §2, and 1095 §3. However, when the author shows lack of due discretion is immaturity, she is misleading readers. The chief justice at the Vatican’s Tribunal, in 2006, criticized using “insufficient human maturity understood in a general way” as a grave lack of discretion of judgment. See Dean of the Roman Rota, His Excellency Antoni Stankiewicz HERE (pg. 38). Saint Pope John Paul II, in his 1987 address to the Roman Rota, criticized the exaggerated use of immaturity as a reason for invalidity when describing the tribunals’ obligation to find the truth:
Furthermore, in 1988, Saint Pope John Paul II taught that incapacity to consent to marriage is only applicable to those who suffered “severe forms of psychopathology.”
The annulment procedure described in the Salt Lake City Diocese article is backwards, as if the petitioner does not even allege the grounds upon which he or she asserts the marriage is invalid. Furthermore, the article shows that the Tribunal collects testimony from the petitioner prior to anyone even knowing what ground is being investigated.
The law requires the petitioner’s petition to identify the lawful basis (grounds) upon which he alleges his marriage is invalid (cf. Dignitas Connubii art. 116 §1 2o). If not, the Judicial Vicar is supposed to reject the petition (can. 1505 §2, 3o). The law forbids the judge to collect testimony from the petitioner until after the other spouse is mailed his own copy of the petitioner’s petition that must include the petitioner’s description, in a general way, of the facts upon which the petitioner is relying to support the assertion that the marriage was invalid.
According to the article, a petitioner would meet with the Tribunal’s licensed social worker, Mary Reade. “Meeting with Reade can give the petitioner the chance to work through the emotional pain. ‘It’s like reopening a wound that has healed,’ she said. Participants often also get a better understanding of why they made the choices they did, she said.”
However, there is no lawful role for a licensed social worker to help petitioners work through emotional pain and better understand themselves. If Reade is appointed as the Tribunal’s expert psychological witness, the law requires her to be given the full written records of the case and “other documents and aids which he could need in order to carry out his[her] task properly and faithfully” (D.C. Art. 207 § 2; can. 1577, § 2). Then Reade should be giving her professional opinion to the judge, not counseling to the petitioner. Reade is supposed to identify the psychological anomaly and its effects on the party who allegedly had no capacity to consent to marriage.
It appears that in the Diocese of Salt Lake, divorced persons and those who want to marry someone in the Church (other than their original spouse) are advised by the diocese newspaper to
- answer a questionnaire about their relationship’s history and what led to the breakdown of the marriage,
- meet with a licensed social worker to work through the emotional pain, and
- thereafter, be granted an annulment for alleged immaturity.
All the while, the ground used is supposed to only be reserved for those who had a serious psychopathology at the time of consent. However, because the Tribunal has the petitioner sign a petition with a blank space for grounds to be inserted later, the petitioner never knows what is going on. A diocesan staff person (who the Tribunal requires the petitioner to mandate) writes the grounds on the petition document. The newspaper article says, “Each party may read the documentation but is encouraged not to, Fr. Silva said.”
Statistics published by the Canon Law Society of America show that In the year 2015, the Tribunal of Salt Lake decided 82 marriages were invalid and two cases were judged to be valid marriages. Fr. Langes Silva is the Judicial Vicar in charge of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. He was ordained a priest in the mid 1990’s and obtained doctorate degree in Canon Law from the Pontifical School of Salamanca, Spain in 2006. His tribunal instructs petitioners “Complete the PETITION FOR DECREE OF NULLITY but omit filling in the ‘grounds’ for initiating your case. The Tribunal will put the correct canonical grounds on the form after reviewing your self-testimony” (source). Mary’s Advocates helps those who believe their marriage is valid to uphold their procedural rights of defense in canon law cases.