Page 5, 15th August 1975

15th August 1975
Page 5
Page 5, 15th August 1975 — Church's teaching on nullity

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Locations: London


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Church's teaching on nullity

I greatly enjoyed the article of August 8 by Maureen Vincent on "Grounds for nullity." I feel that nothing but good can be served by bringing to the attention of both Catholics and non-Catholics the teaching of the Church on the sacramenlathy. validity and nullity of marriage.

It is an unfortunate fact, however, that too few people are aware of so many agencies of the Church designed to assist people in difficult situations, and especially of its marriage tribunals.

Moreover, no canonist could deny the complexity of this area of grounds for nullity. Indeed, I cannot but admire the way in which this article has compressed within a few columns the law and jurisprudence on the subject which would normally be found within the pages of a fairsized manual.

However, compression can have its disadvantages— for example the omission of necessary qualifications to guard against misunderstanding. May I therefore add to the article a few qualifications which will, I hope, be of help towards a general understanding of this complex area: 1. The first general qualification concerns the examples given. The basic element upon which all these are founded is that the grounds are capable of proof by means of evidence of parties and corroborative witnesses.

2. "Marriage is their gift of themselves to one another. If that gift in any way excludes, or does not positively include, certain aspects of Christian marriage, that makes their consent, whatever else it may be, not a marriage."

Comment: Sometimes the non-inclusion, for example, of permanence can be seen as the equivalent of an implicit exclusion. This is an area which is growing because of the phenomenon of the so-called divorce mentality.

3. "A pregnant girl who marries for the sake of her unborn child ... does not undertake what the Church understands as marriage."

Comment: Of course it is also true that a person may marry when pregnant because she wants to join her life to her partner. But, where the marriage takes place solely because of the pregnancy, and to the deliberate exclusion ot marriage as the Church understands it, this might he found to he invalid.

4. "(A homosexual) may want to be normal ... but because he is not normal, probably cannot make the right judgment about entering into marriage."

Comment: Naturally as to whether the union is invalid or not turns on the gravity of the condition. So that the tribunal would have to establish that this person was constitutionally unable to form a normal heterosexual relationship.

The psychiatric tag (eg, homosexuality, nymphomania, psychopathy, satyriasis, etc) does not constitute the grounds of nullity. What makes the union invalid is the proved inability of the person to enter the union as the Church understands it.

5. "The average cost . . ."

Comment: Naturally it must he added that the petitioning party only pays what he can afford, and when he can afford to do so. If he cannot afford anything, the case is dealt with on a completely free basis. it is well to note that the Church operated a free legal aid system long before such was ever introduced into civil law.

The costs, however, can vary (depending on the ability of the person to pay), even more widely than reported, from nil to many hundreds of pounds, depending upon the nature of the case, and, as mentioned already, on the person's ability to pay.

No case is ever turned away from any Church court around the world For reasons of finance. Courts are quite disinterested in a person's financial situation until the end of the case, when the expenses which have been incurred have been calculated.

I hope these slight qualifications and additions to Maureen Vincent's article will be of general help in understanding this most complicated area of the Church's law.

May I add that in connection with the operation of marriage tribunals around the world (quite apart from the services of many devoted priests) such tribunals could not operate without the heroic and -loyal work done by countless lay people who assist.

It is sometimes necessary to stress the great work which is done by such lay persons in assisting their fellow members of the people of God to peace of mind and full communion with the Church.

(Mgr) Ralph Brown Presiding Judge, Metropolitan Tribunal of Westminster 33 Wilfred Street,

London, SWI.

I wonder if, in the course of researching for her article of August 8, "grounds for nullity," Maureen Vincent actually spoke to anyone who had in fact applied for an annulment? For it is one thing to have good grounds — it is quite another to produce witnesses to support them.

Nullity, unlike civil divorce, cannot be obtained simply because the application is unopposed. The Church demands proof, and proof is not easily obtained.

It is the vexed matter of proof, rather than any extension of "grounds," to which the Church authorities must give their attention. There has been in some places a gradual change from stress on the moment of marital consent to stress on the shown ability to live out that consent.

But it is likely to be an uphill fight before the more backward-looking courts are prepared to accept proof a posteriori.

It is now no exaggeration to say that civil divorce rates in this country have reached Californian proportions. The provisional figure for 1974 is 131,534 — an increase of 15 per cent over 1973. The position is now so bad that the President of the Family Division of the High Court has been reported as saying that divorce should be forbidden to the adoptive parents of children under 18 years old. And if adoptive parents, why not natural parents?

One may argue, Sir, ad infinitum, the causes of marriage break-ups. Among Catholics contraception may be a relevant issue, though to raise the hoary chestnut of the parentsof-seven children-unable-tomake-rhythm-work is rather emotive, And it is outmoded, when American scientists are now stating that the permitted natural means of birth control are just as effective as the forbidden artificial means.

More and better counselling might help. More parish visiting, more information on the natural methods of birth control, and more effort to amend the present divorce laws would, however, be more to the point. And more charity towards the Catholic divorced and their children.

Counsellor Name and address supplied.

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