Church and World

Pope Francis and the Marriage Annulment Process

On September 8, 2015, Pope Francis issued two Motu Proprio (a form of papal instruction given on the pope’s own initiative) completely revamping the current process for obtaining a marriage annulment in the Church. The Church, abiding by our Lord’s own explicit teaching, has always taught that a valid, sacramental marriage is indissoluble and remains so except by the death of one of the spouses. An annulment is an official declaration by the Church, after an exhaustive judicial process involving sworn testimony and witnesses, that a marriage never existed in the first place for some clearly evident reason. Prior to the promulgation of the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983, the grounds for opening an annulment case were very specific. The 1983 Code broadened the possible grounds to include “psychological immaturity,” which quickly became the floodgate through which many annulment cases flowed. The number of annulments in the United States skyrocketed and the vast majority were granted on the grounds of psychological immaturity. This high number of annulments caused the Holy See to revise the annulment process to include an automatic appeal of a nullity verdict to another marriage tribunal, among other items.

The two new documents (Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et misericors Iesus) issued by Pope Francis have effectively done away with much of the judicial process by decreeing that a marriage tribunal must issue a decision regarding a nullity case within 30 days of receiving it. Needless to say, this will make the gathering of evidence and obtaining the sworn testimony of witnesses almost impossible. In speaking of the new process instituted by the pope, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, who is currently dean of the Roman Rota (the court responsible for deciding nullity cases appealed to Rome), said the following in an article in the L’Osservatore Romano: “So, with this fundamental law, Francis makes a real beginning to his reform: by putting the poor at the center, that is, the divorced and remarried, considered set apart and distant, and asking bishops for a true and proper metànoia. That is to say, a ‘conversion’, a change of mentality which convinces and sustains them in following the invitation of Christ, present in their brother, the Bishop of Rome, to pass from the restricted number of a few thousand annulments to that immeasurable [number] of unfortunates who might have a declaration of nullity—because of evident absence of faith as a bridge to knowledge and thus to the free will [necessary] to give sacramental consent—but are left on the outside by the current system.”

These two documents have led a number of bishops and prominent Catholic laymen to state emphatically that there is now, effectively, Catholic “divorce” and that the teaching of our Lord on the indissolubility of marriage is being ignored. Professor Roberto de Mattei made this observation when writing about the situation: “The theoretical affirmation of indissolubility of marriage, is accompanied in practice with the right to a declaration of nullity for every failed marriage bond. It will be enough, in conscience, to deem one’s own marriage invalid, in order to have it recognized as null by the Church.” There is no doubt that the assault on the Sacrament of Matrimony is continuing unabated.

Conscience Wrongly Understood

In an interview granted while he was in Rome, Archbishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago made the following statement regarding the divorced and civilly remarried and their decision that they should approach the sacrament of the Eucharist: “If people come to a decision in good conscience then our job is to help them move forward and to respect that. The conscience is inviolable and we have to respect that when they make decisions, and I’ve always done that.”

This astounding statement clearly shows a false understanding of the Church’s teaching on conscience. The Church has always spoken of the inviolability of one’s conscience and the duty everyone has to follow his or her conscience. This being said, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that it is quite possible for a person’s conscience to be in error (i.e., erroneous). It is for this reason that we must look to the teachings of the Church to be our guide and not presume that our conscience is correct. Simply put, the role of the bishop or priest is to work to correct anyone who is following an erroneous conscience. Bishops and priests fail in their duty when they confirm individuals in their error by not clearly articulating the objective truth found in the teachings of Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition.

The implication in the quote from Archbishop Cupich is that whatever a person’s conscience tells them to do is right for them. In other words, what is subtly hidden here is a rejection of objective truth and a reliance on subjectivism, which holds that something is true only if I accept it as such. Quite obviously, such thinking is at odds with the Faith as well as with philosophical thought up through the Enlightenment.

China’s One Child Policy Ends

Communist China has announced that it will put an end to its one child per couple policy and allow parents to have two children, all in the name of helping to “balance” the population. In recent years, many have called for an end to this policy, which was implemented in 1979, saying that it was ultimately harming the Chinese people by causing an imbalance in the ratio of men to women and by creating an aging population. With this change in policy, China joins a growing number of industrialized nations that have come to realize that there is no future for any country that has negative population growth. Europe in particular has been seeing its native populations effectively dying out and, as a result, have opened their borders to immigrants in large numbers. While the immigrant peoples have solved the problem of a shrinking work force, they have often brought their own cultural elements which frequently are at odds with the host country’s long established culture.

Texas and Planned Parenthood Funding

In mid-October, Texas health officials announced that the state would no longer provide Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the state. This decision was in the wake of undercover videos coming to light which showed Planned Parenthood personnel discussing the sale of body parts and tissue from the victims of abortions performed in their facilities.

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, ordered an investigation into Planned Parenthood some months ago and the response to the investigation was the cutting off of Medicaid funding for the organization. Governor Abbott issued a statement saying that the decision by Texas health officials “is another step in providing greater access to safe health care for women while protecting our most vulnerable—the unborn.”

The Texas decision follows moves by other states to stop the public funding of Planned Parenthood. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindel is currently involved in a law suit brought by Planned Parenthood after his state ceased funding of the organization. Additionally, in the U.S. House of Representatives there have been calls to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood in light of the videos. Although there may not be much success in defunding Planned Parenthood, particularly on the national level, the simple fact that it is even being discussed is indeed progress towards closing down the group that is the largest purveyor of death and contraception in our nation.

Right to Die Legislation

In October, California became the fifth state to approve so-called “Right to Die” legislation. Governor Jerry Brown, who proclaims himself a Catholic, signed the bill which would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives using drugs prescribed by their physicians. The bill was introduced into the legislature after Brittany Maynard, a California woman with terminal brain cancer, moved to Oregon so that she could legally commit suicide with her physician’s assistance. The woman ended her life some months ago to the accolades and sympathy of many in the secular media who praised her courage.

As California was legalizing physician assisted suicide, a judge in New York has dismissed a lawsuit brought by three terminally-ill New Yorkers and five physicians who wanted to overturn a law that makes assisted suicide a felony. Judge Joan Kennedy dismissed the suit saying that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the New York state law prohibiting assisted suicide is legal.

Unfortunately, this ruling has not ended the debate in New York. The state legislature has been approached to introduce a change in the current law which would allow assisted suicide. The Catholic bishops of New York have announced that they will make defeating any such bill a priority, and there are other voices of opposition being raised by other groups. One of these groups, the Patients Rights Action Fund, is led by J.J. Hanson, who himself is suffering from the same form of brain cancer as did Brittany Maynard. Mr. Hanson, who has a wife and a young son stated: “New York is entirely different than California; when New Yorkers fully understand the impact of assisted suicide and what this can do, they may not necessarily look at it in the same light.” He also added, speaking about Maynard, that he “saw it as a bad example for others who had this form of brain cancer.” He said as well that two times his doctors indicated that he did not have long to live, but a third doctor and subsequent surgery has him successfully managing the disease. This is one more reminder that our lives are not our own and that our life or death needs to remain where it belongs: in the hand of God.