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Symphosium on Dignitas Connubii

National Catholic Report - 20.01.2006

On Thursday, Santa Croce University, the Opus Dei-sponsored campus in Rome, held a symposium on Dignitas Connubii, released in February 2005 after almost 10 years of work by an indicasterial commission (meaning a body formed of officials from several different Vatican offices). The document, formally an "instruction," dealt with the vexed subject of annulments.
Broadly speaking, Dignitas Connubii affirmed the need for a careful judicial process before granting an annulment, on the grounds that declaring a marriage null and void should not just be about healing a difficult pastoral situation, but establishing the truth.
At the Jan. 19 symposium, Msgr. Joaquín Llobell, a professor of canon law at Santa Croce and one of the experts who contributed to Dignitas Connubii, strenuously defended the document.
First, Llobell challenged those who argue that because an "instruction" cannot change canon law, any points in Dignitas Connubii that amount to changes are thereby void. In fact, Llobell argued, there are several sources for church law, not just the formal Code of Canon Law; these include the speeches of the pope to the Roman Rota, the interpretations of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and developments in law carried out by later norms (including particular laws, such as one promulgated for the court of the apostolic nuncio in Spain)
What Dignitas Connubii does, Llobell argued, is not so much create new law as recognize changes in law that have already taken place
Second, Llobell sternly challenged the notion that church courts should have a primarily "pastoral" orientation, meaning that their role should be largely to reach a declaration of annulment as quickly as possible that so that a divorced Catholic can remarry and be readmitted to the sacraments. The primary function of a court, he argued, must instead be to establish the truth about whether the necessary conditions for a valid marriage existed
In that connection, Llobell was critical of some statements made in the October 2005 Synod of Bishops, when the theme of divorced and remarried Catholics was much-discussed. Proposition 40 of the synod dealt with the subject.
"From consideration of the speeches given at the last synod, one can deduce that not a few bishops have an imprecise idea about the pastoral function of ecclesiastical tribunals regarding the situation of the divorced and remarried," Llobell said. "Maybe this situation manifests the strong relativistic environment, which can be perceived, according to Benedict XVI, in civil society, and in not a few sectors of the church, especially on themes of affectivity and the family."
Llobell said that the push for easier annulments at the synod is already having consequences.
"Many tribunal judges told me after the synod, 'Look, we have to be more generous in granting annulments,'" Llobell said.
Llobell referred to arguments for relaxing the requirements for annulments as "demagogic and pseudo-pastoral positions."
In fact, he said, at its root the problem is not pastoral but theological, based on Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and Paul's teaching about the conditions for receiving the Eucharist.
At the same time, Llobell was critical of the lack of trained judges and functional tribunals in many dioceses, as well as the "unjust slowness" with which the Roman Rota, the main appeals court, sometimes operates
Msgr. Antoni Stankiewicz, dean of the Roman Rota, argued that the "defender of the bond" in annulment cases must do his job, seeking to point out all the arguments in favor of validity.
"The defender of the bond may never suggest an annulment," Stankiewicz said. "At most, he can entrust himself to the judgment of the court."