Lay Catholics call on Vatican to protect marriage from no-fault divorce

religion | Sep 25, 2014 | By Martin Barillas

Mary’s Advocates, an advocacy group based in Ohio, hopes to have its position represented at the upcoming Extraordinary Synod to be held at the Vatican. According to a release from the organization, dozens of manuscripts were sent to Pope Francis, as well as bishops and cardinals to point out what it calls “discrepancies between pastoral care actually occurring compared to care described in the Canon Law and Catechism.” 
 
Rev. Chuck Zmudzinski, a canon lawyer, has recommended the observations offered by Mary’s Advocates. He hopes that they succeed in their efforts to find Catholics bishops willing to speak up for the rights of spouses who want to protect their marriages from divorce and uphold the validity of their marriages in nullity proceedings conducted by church tribunals. 
 
Mary's Advocates quoted Fr. Zmudzinski as pointing out “the possibility that the Church is actually promoting divorce by ignoring the canonical requirement that a spouse obtain the bishop's permission before approaching the civil forum for a decree of separation or divorce.”
 
In the Observations’ introduction, Bai Macfarlane of Mary’s Advocates writes, “From a layperson’s point of view, there is a notable difference between the pastoral care described in the Catechism and the Canon Law, in contrast to the prevalent pastoral practice in the United States. Simply put, many of the faithful believe that divorce is a morally neutral occurrence, and many diocesan staff personnel seem to agree—separation of spouses, the break-up of marriages, and divorce are things that ‘just happen.’” See Observations here.
 
Macfarlane also wrote “Chanceries appear to have no system to assist bishops in weighing the special circumstances of a marriage before a spouse files for divorce or separation in the civil forum. This weighing of circumstances is required by canon law as described herein. Numerous faithful do not know or do not care that forcing divorce—outside of specifically limited circumstances—is immoral, contravenes the moral law, and is a grave offense against the natural law.”
 
She went on to say, “... For those who withdraw from marriage for no morally legitimate reason, if bishops would authoritatively instruct them of their obligation to restore common conjugal life, then a number of families could be saved from no-fault divorce. The person deserting the marriage could choose to work with those experienced in helping marriages, rather than hiring divorce lawyers.”
 
Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St Louis MO who will soon leave his post at the Vatican, recently said that mainstream media outlets give the erroneous impression that the Catholic Church is embarking on change in its doctrine regarding marriage.  See video here.
 
In the Mary’s Advocates Observations, a ruling by the Vatican Signatura (or high court)  about the so-called Denial of the Right of Legitimate Defense in marriage annulment proceedings is discussed, while the tribunals that appear to have violated church law are also listed. Mary’s Advocates finds that when a spouse who has no morally legitimate reason for separation, forces a divorce on his or her family, the Catechism teaches that said person has committed an immoral, grave offence against nature. Judges in the Civil Law forum, thanks to no-fault divorce, do not inform parties of their obligation to keep their marriage vows. Mary’s Advocates asks whether those forcing unjust divorce should be corrected officially by the Church: “A diocesan hands-off policy with respect to separation and divorce gives scandal to everyone because everyone, understandably, concludes that there is nothing wrong with leaving one’s spouse.”
 
Pope Francis recently decided to establish a Special Commission for the study of the reform of the matrimonial processes in canon law. The commission is to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, “with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony,” according to a Vatican statement. 
 
Macfarlane said of this development, “we hope the commission considers that the existing required process might be fine. A problem could be that in some places, like the U.S., tribunal judges aren't following the requirements. For example, they don't require the petitioner (plaintiff) to describe in a general way the facts and proofs that are being alleged to support their accusations against the nullity of their marriage. Further, some tribunals keep secret from the respondent (defendant) the copy of the petition that must contain the facts and proofs in a general way that support the accusations of nullity of marriage.”
 
Macfarlane added, “Rather than focusing so much on trying to make sure those in second marriages get their marriages blessed by the Church, we hope the catholic tribunals focus more on keeping families together. We are concerned that in the U.S., those in authority are ignoring the process in canon law designed to protect marriages and keep couples together.”

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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