Vatican officials challenge “dangerous” annulment reforms

ROME, September 14, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A growing number of high-ranking Vatican prelates are quietly expressing their dismay over Pope Francis’ recent and sudden Motu Proprio streamlining the process of declaring a marriage null, according to a new report.

On September 10, the German newspaper Die Zeit published an important report about a seven-page dossier that is now being privately circulated in the Vatican among Curial members who are opposing Pope Francis’s recent decision to liberalize the process of marriage annulments.

According to the Die Zeit author, Julius Müller-Meiningen, one high-ranking prelate said that with this new Motu Proprio, which makes the process of annulling a marriage much faster and much easier, “Pope Francis has let drop his mask.” “Many Monsignors,” says Müller-Meiningen, “who are officially working at variously central places of the Universal Church, are expressively distressed and very indignant.”

The dossier that criticizes Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio has now been widely – though secretly – distributed in the Vatican, especially in the “most important offices in the Vatican, among them in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in the Secretariat of the State,” reports Die Zeit. Here are the most important points of the reported criticism, with quotes drawn directly from the dossier itself. They contain all the essential criticisms to be found in the secret dossier, as a source in Rome told LifeSiteNews:

  • The Pope did not consult those commissions in the Vatican which would and should be responsible in counseling him in such an important matter as the annulment process
  • The Pope introduced de facto a “Catholic divorce”
  • The normal procedures of the legislation in the Universal Church have been thus levered out
  • Most of the safeguards in the process of annulling a marriage have been “intentionally ‘eliminated’”
  • “None of the prescribed steps of a legislative procedure have been kept,” according to the dossier
  • The Bishops’ Conferences, the relevant Congregations and Councils and even the Apostolic Signatura (the highest court of the Church also dealing with the annulments) were not consulted
  • “Already, formally, there are to be found grave defects [in the very making of the Motu Proprio]”
  • Against the often proclaimed and invited principles of synodality and of “openness” (i.e., “Parrhesia”), the Pope nonetheless decided seemingly rashly to go ahead with the Motu Proprio, even though at the last Synod of Bishops in 2014, there was not yet a “unanimous consent” to carry forth this streamlining move
  • The viewpoint has now changed, moving away from the concern to preserve marriages. In the Motu Proprio there is no talk anymore about “pastoral and juridical means for the rescue or validation of a marriage”; the fact that they are missing indeed “causes reflection”
  • All in all, this speedy development is “dangerous”
  • There is a strong impression that “it is not anymore about stating the truth concerning a concrete marriage bond, but, rather, about declaring to be invalid as many marriages as possible”
  • That means that, concretely, the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage is being hollowed out, even though Pope Francis mentions the dogma twice in his text
  • The introduction of a fast-track procedure for the formal determination of a possible declaration of nullity of a marriage “contains the danger of introducing the path to a Catholic divorce”; many of the 3600 diocesan bishops in the world will be most probably overwhelmed by this new mission; additionally, the dossier wonders “how many bishops in the world are able to make a trustworthy assessment which also makes them come to the expected moral certainty [about the validity of a specific marriage]”
  • Many theologically contested problems have been simply ignored by Pope Francis
  • Several passages in the Motu Proprio contain very vague formulations which are purportedly to help someone decide whether the quick procedure itself ought to be started – such as someone’s putatively “lacking Faith” or other reasons that are not unequivocally specified
  • The consensus of both spouses (or even the complete lack of response by one of them) is a sufficient reason in order to start the quick procedure, all of which is “concerning”
  • “It is a novelty in the legislation that a legal text ends with the expression ‘etc.’ and it thus thereby keeps open other options”
  • Pope Francis did not himself follow the regular procedures of legislation.

According to Die Zeit, one of the Curial members said: “We have to open the mouth now,” indicating the moral obligation to resist the new legislation. As Die Zeit also reports, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, fears that the whole edifice of the Catholic Church will collapse, if one removes one of its main foundations by introducing an actual or a seeming Catholic form of divorce. According to another article written by Müller-Meiningen on September 10 in another German publication, Rundschau Online, one Curial member reported that Cardinal Müller is “deeply indignant” about the fact that he himself was not consulted in the preparation of the new Motu Proprio.

The move by Pope Francis to cut short or bypass a more thorough discussion during the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family might now effectively “turn it into a debating club which revolves around itself,” in Müller-Meiningen’s own words. And the author then closes his reportage with the question: “Will the pope now implement with all his might his long-designed path, which has at least been sketched out for a long time?” As Müller-Meiningen reported on September 9 in the German newspaper, the Neue Westfälische, circles around Cardinal Müller say that they expect there to be “three weeks of struggle” during the October Synod. Morever, Müller-Meiningen himself acutely continues with the following observation: “The pope – as the critics are now convinced – now acts single-handedly, unilaterally. That he now puts out some of the fires with his new quick reform, is a possibility. The other possibility, however, is that the defenders of the pure [traditional] doctrine are now becoming even more resistantly uncompromising.”

This article, by Maike Haikson, is republished with permission from LifeSiteNews.