Towards “Catholic Divorce”?

February 02, 2022

On November 17, 2021, Pope Francis published a motu proprio by which he set up a commission to verify the proper application in Italian dioceses of the motu proprio Mitis Judex of August 15, 2015, on lawsuits for marriage annulment.

Clearly, as Sandro Magister reported on his blog Settimo Cielo on December 14: “he charged an ‘ad hoc’ commission to inspect one by one the more than two hundred Italian dioceses, to ascertain whether or not they are complying with what Pope Francis himself wants done in regard to matrimonial nullity trials.”

According to the Roman Vaticanist, “the modification of these trials [for marriage annulments] is perhaps the biggest practical innovation of this pontificate, launched by surprise in August 2015 in the interval between the two synods on the family, with the motu proprio ‘Mitis Judex.’”

Surprisingly, because “Francis introduced this innovation by keeping the Synod Fathers in the dark, knowing most of them to be refractory, and ignoring the contrary judgment of his trusted theologian and cardinal Walter Kasper, who in February 2014, in giving the introductory presentation of the first and last consistory of the cardinals of this pontificate, although calling for the green light for communion for the divorced and remarried had warned of ‘an expansion of nullity procedures’ that in reality ‘would create the dangerous impression that the Church is proceeding in a dishonest manner to grant what in reality are divorces.’”

Sandro Magister explains: “Whereas expansion is what Francis wanted at all costs and in his own way, in particular by no longer entrusting to regional ecclesiastical tribunals, with their magistrates and lawyers and with all the trappings of law, and but to the individual bishops themselves, as pastors ‘and for that very reason judges’ of their faithful, the task of examining annulment cases and issuing sentences, with drastically shortened procedures and by extrajudicial means, in a regimen completely free of charge for the claimants.”

Why such obstinacy? According to the Italian journalist: “To understand the logic that moves Pope Francis in this matter, it is enough to fish out the speech he gave to the Roman Rota on January 29 2021, for the inauguration of the judicial year.”

“For him, it is always a question of money and the thirst for power, including for today’s opponents of his reform of matrimonial nullity trials. He said, again in his speech to the Roman Rota in January: “This reform, especially the brief process, has encountered, and still encounters, a lot of resistance. I must confess that after its promulgation I received many letters, I don't know how many, but a lot. Almost all of them were lawyers who were losing their clients. And there is the problem of money. In Spain they say: ‘Por la plata baila el mono,’ the monkey dances for money.”

“The saying is clear. And sadly, this too: in some dioceses I have encountered resistance from some judicial vicars who, perhaps, lost some power with this reform, because he realized that the judge was not he, but the bishop.”

Is concern for the poor the real reason for this abusive reform of procedures? One has a right to ask, especially in the Church in Italy, which was, as Sandro Magister recalls, “one of the best organized in the world, with its network of well-functioning regional courts and with the very low costs of the trials, from a maximum of 525 euros down a sliding scale to completely free depending on the claimant’s standard of living.”

“Judges and court-appointed lawyers were compensated directly by the episcopal conference, with the proceeds of the 8 per thousand.”

Still, the result is there, the Vaticanist concludes: “All this to demolish what remains of the marriage tribunals worthy of this name, in Italy and the world. With sentences of nullity brought around to being more and more similar to the nullification of failed marriages, that is to that ‘Catholic divorce’ about which the unheeded Cardinal Kasper had in vain warned the pope.”

In this generalized deliquescence, even Cardinal Kasper, a very ecumenical promoter of the “differentiated consensus,” is overtaken by the promoter of a “polyhedral Church.”