From a purely juridical standpoint nothing better has been written on Pope Francis’s motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus than Dr. Edward Peters’s two entries (here and here) at his canon-law blog. I don’t know if I can recommend any other reading on the matter in good conscience, simply because so much of what has been written in the Catholic press borders on absurd. “Prudent reforms”; “Nothing has changed”; “Doctrine remains untouched,” and so on and so forth. Of course doctrine has not been touched in any direct manner; it’s just now Catholics will likely have a much easier time circumventing it.

If a silver lining is to be found amidst this fresh storm of confusion to hit the Church, let it be this: No Catholic should any longer strike a triumphalist posture against the Eastern Orthodox with respect to the latter’s marriage praxis. Orthodox doctrine may not be exactly “neat” in this area, but they have dodged the need to engage in legalistic acrobatics to justify their behavior. I hope that charity compels the Orthodox not to snicker too loudly over all of this. When it comes to the crisis of modern marriage, we’re in this together.


  1. Thanks. I was waiting for Peters’ take. And you’re right: The Catholic Church can no longer credibly claim to be the last remaining institution defending the indissolubility of marriage.

    Not that this claim has been particularly credible in recent years anyway, at least in the West. A few months ago, I was listening to an Audio Sancto homily in which the priest read out annulment statistics from several US dioceses over the past decade or so. A large number of them approve over 90% of the annulment petitions that come before them, which is flatly absurd and literally scandalous.

    1. Yes, the process has very little credibility, and it hasn’t had much since at least the 1980s. I think certain Orthodox (including some of my friends) are right to see the present annulment process as little more than an exercise in implausible legal gymnastics to justify results which simply do not make sense.

      This is not to say I agree wholeheartedly with Ortho-praxis when it comes to divorce and remarriage. However, there’s an internal consistency there that seems to be lacking in Rome these days. Perhaps, in time, this annulment business will be viewed by the Church the same way as selling indulgences: a gross abuse.

  2. I am literate in neither Latin not Italian, so I will have to await the official English translation in order to comment intelligently. I’m afraid Dr. Peters will have to present us with some commentary that is intelligible to those who have not yet read the Motu Propio before his views will be helpful. But if I go by the BBC report, I do have to wonder at the alarm.

    The automatic appeal has never seemed particularly sensible to me. Why would one tribunal be more competent than another simply because it happens to reside in a larger city? Besides, an appeal remains nearly automatic, since it is automatically given under the new law if one of the spouses requests it.

    Charging for the service of reviewing a marriage for nullity has been, to my mind, a scandal, especially in the case of converts. It gives the impression that one has to pay in order to become Catholic, and, in the case of one who has been particularly dissolute in his marital life prior to conversion, the fees can indeed reach into the thousands. To the extent that the new law does away with fees, I am pleased.

    One thing that I have never understood about the law in its previous form is that Catholics who marry in a non-Catholic service get an automatic annulment on the basis of defect of form, while converts have to go through the entire process. That makes no sense. The ministers of matrimony are the spouses themselves, and the defect of form provision has always seemed to me to be, literally, an exaltation of form over substance. At the same time, those who are not Catholic are unlikely to understand marriage in accordance with Catholicism, to wit, its indissolubility. That in itself seems to vitiate consent, and the previous law made no provision for that in the case of conversions (and, maybe, the new law doesn’t either).

    Canon law cannot change either the deposit of faith or natural law, and is a human effort to implement the Divine law. Imperfections are to be expected. But if the first century Church could find a way to implement the Divine law regarding marriage in the libertine Greek and Roman culture, without charging fees and creating a bureaucratic morass, we should be able to do the same.

    I understand the suspicions that, given the frequency of annulments in the United States, tribunals are showing a disrespect for the indissolubility of marriage. But such suspicions cannot be supported by hard evidence, since annulment proceedings are confidential. The phenomenon can be just as easily explained by poor catechesis, which is evident to simple observation. A triumphalist tone is never warranted on any issue. But I cannot concur with the view that a simple streamlining of annulment procedures represents a descent to the acceptance of divorce in all but name.

    1. While I’m aware that data is not the plural of anecdote, my own experience was far from the nightmare scenarios we often seem to hear about:

      When I began the process of reception into the Church, I had to submit an annulment petition for an early and short-lived civil marriage some 17 years prior. Our priest is also the Judicial Vicar for our diocese, and is one of those (apparently rare) clerics who takes marriage very seriously. He required me to write a painfully frank account of my mindset at the time, interviewed my parents to determine whether I had ever been baptized (I had not), and did the same for my ex-wife and her parents, fallen-away Catholics who could not clearly recall which of their daughters they had had baptized. In the end, I believe he had to resort to parish records in a place far across the country from where we reside.

      When it was determined that neither of us had been baptized at the time of the marriage, it became a relatively simple matter of applying for the Pauline Privilege, in which my original valid but natural marriage was dissolved in favor of my present one. Since the course of action was clear, our priest decided to waive all costs associated with the process. However, I would gladly have paid for the (certainly non-negligible) administrative costs if asked, though I think in our diocese the typical amount requested is around $200-400, far from onerous for most people. And of course, those without resources are not required to pay anything.

      Now granted, my ex-wife was co-operative, and a failed marriage between two heathens is relatively simple to deal with, but I was at all times impressed with the seriousness and diligence of our pastor in determining the truth. For my part, I was seeking to enter the Church founded by Christ and given the eternal gravity of this choice, it never even crossed my mind to feel resentful or imposed upon. Had my annulment petition been refused, I believe and hope that I would have accepted the judgment.

      1. I had to go through a regular annulment when I became Catholic. Thankfully, I was convinced enough of Catholicism by that time that I paid the money. There was a time when having to pay money might have caused me to doubt that I had come to the right place.

        I too had to write out an excruciating rendition of what had happened. I don’t complain about that. The benefit of the self-reflection was obvious at the time.

        But it just isn’t right to have to pay for a spiritual benefit. Jesus would never have done it. It’s wrong, and is a scandal. When I worked with RCIA I winced every time someone learned that they were going to have to cough up bucks to be received into the Church.

        1. I have no personal familiarity with the annulment process, but I understand that the fees incurred are primarily to pay for the canon lawyers, secretaries, etc. that go through all the paper work to push an annulment through. I suppose one could debate the proper amount, but that there are fees at all does not strike me as even remotely scandalous. Canon lawyers have families to feed too.

          As an Orthodox Christian, I agree with the closing sentiments of the post. The Catholic Church needs our prayers, not our snark. As I once heard an Orthodox priest (Fr. Freeman?) say, we best learn how to better get along now, we will eventually be in the same jail cells together.

          1. I am not familiar with the fee structures, but from what I have heard across the board is that if you can’t afford it, you don’t have to pay. That makes sense to me. And yes, given all of the red tape involved, requiring, or at least asking, for some remuneration strikes me as sensible.

            1. There are stories floating around of South American petitioners being asked to pay several thousand (Dollars? Local currency units?) for the process, but I have no idea how reliable they are. But if it is the case that some petitioners are being effectively extorted (which is simony), there must be several ways to deal with this short of waiving all fees–a rule which is only likely to a) Provide another incentive to seek annulments, and b) Increase the pressure on dioceses to fast-track annulment petitions in order to keep costs down.

              But this is what we have become accustomed to with this very parochial pope: as is increasingly apparent, he universalizes his particular South American experiences to the whole Church with little regard for (or perhaps even knowledge of) the way things are done elsewhere.

          2. The people involved with the annulment process are paid for their jobs anyway, and that’s the major expense of the process. Jesus said, “You received without pay, give without pay.” Not only is charging for the process a direct violation of that, but, and here comes the scandal part, it gives the impression that one gets out of his prior marriage through payment of consideration. There’s just no reason to do it.

  3. The ultimate issue is not so much “Orthodox marriage praxis” or the dawning of “Catholic Divorce.” The greater concern is that this was pushed through by an ideological wing in the Roman Church for whom this is but window dressing for some proposals for reform which would deny certain fundamental aspects of moral theology in favor of secular convention. Easier annunlments and recognition of divorce and remarriage was revealed as the tip of the spear to a more extensive agenda which would turn moral theology on its ear.

    Oddly enough, for as much as this Pope talks about wanting communion with the Orthodox, he has (at the very least) empowered an ideological wing in the Roman Church that would instute such a radical rejection of traditional morality that the majority of the Orthodox Patriarchs would determine reunion is impossible.

    There is a lot riding on this issue and what happens in October.

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