Satirical animation slams Catholic marriage tribunals

world | Jan 11, 2013 | By Bai Macfarlane


 As a judge on the Catholic Church’s Supreme Tribunal in the Vatican makes a scholarly speech on the Defense of the Natural Family, Debbie Nuzzo, from Brooklyn, New York, is broadcasting a set of well-researched 3-D animated movies that are a satire on the Catholic U.S. tribunals. Most of U.S. tribunal work involves issuing annulments, which is a formal declaration by the Catholic Church that a couple never had a real marriage.  This frees either partner to marry someone else.
Using an online animation program,, Nuzzo portrays a wife breaking the news to her husband that she’s going to divorce him. The animated husband questions why his wife is being so selfish and pleads with her to work things out. The wife says outright that she cares only about her own happiness. A Catholic priest is reportedly going to help the wife get her annulment based on “loose canon 1095.” The animated wife is already planning how to make her case. “I have a psychologist who says I might have a personality disorder and he can make that stretch all the way back to consent.”
Nuzzo’s movies were shown to some Catholic children on the West Coast by their father. He said, “My kids are eating this up. This is a perfect medium for them.” After their mother filed for no-fault divorce, the children lost day-to-day contact with their father who now lives outside the marital home.
Their eight-year old daughter says about Nuzzo’s video, “I think it was kind of cool. People should watch this video if the same thing is happening to them. People who are kicking their husband or wife out of the house should watch this video.”
For thirty years, the Vatican has been publicizing their concern about granting annulments incorrectly for psychologically based reasons. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2009 Address to the Roman Rota said there is a pressing problem regarding psychic incapacity in the causes of matrimonial nullity.
In the January 10 speech by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, a judge on the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, “he outlined a sort of ‘plot logic’ found in the Pope's teaching on the issue of the Capacity to Marry” says news story published by Zenit (Cardinal Versaldi: 'It is Necessary to Defend the Full Meaning of Marriage’). Versaldi said, “’we need to resist the temptation to transform the simple failings a couple experiences in their married life into defects in consent.’” 
Defective consent is a popular reason used by U.S. tribunals to grant annulments.  Nuzzo was a defendant in Catholic annulment case, and believes many defendants in nullity cases have been treated unfairly for decades. “I found the annulment process belittling because of the strong sense that the burden of proof fell on me, when canon law places the burden of proof on my husband who wanted our marriage declared null.”
In part two of Nuzzo’s movie, a judge on the annulment Tribunal is expecting to collect testimony from the husband. “The dialogue is a compilation of real life experiences described by defendants in nullity cases,” says Nuzzo. “Certain parts of the process are so insulting that a bit of sarcasm makes a stronger point.” The judge is obviously biased towards nullity.
The animated husband is very prepared to defend his marriage using canon law. He challenges the tribunal judge who had never provided to the husband the required copy of the wife’s petition for nullity (called libellus). Nuzzo says, “many US Tribunals are known for not properly following this requirement and I suspect that withholding of information from the defendant is very commonplace and deliberate.”  The husband recommends scholarly sources, such as the Popes’ annual teachings to the Roman Rota, and Professor Robert Vasoli’s book “What God has Joined Together--The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism.”
In contrast to the priest who has taken sides and is obviously supporting the wife in the marital break-up and annulment, the defending husband says he has submitted a Vindicate Rights Petition. “I am asking that my errant spouse be corrected by Church authority, to reconcile the marriage, to return to the marital home, to stop sinning, and to repair the damage that has been caused.”
The tribunal judge accuses the husband of sounding contentious, and lists accusations the wife made: husband didn’t bring her enough flowers and didn’t compliment her enough.  It seems the tribunal judge believes those issues are relevant to lawful reasons for nullity. He goes on to describe accusations of leaving the toilet seat open, several times, which resulted in the wife “falling in.” Nuzzo says, “I use the ridiculous to show how silly some of the claims are that are made to prove invalidity.”
You-tube viewers will determine whether or not sarcasm and satire can be an effective educational medium to publicize the scandal Nuzzo sees caused by U.S. Catholic Tribunals. She says, “I hope that brave people will begin to notice the devastation of 40 years of divorce and annulment and to see clearly how the laxity of the Church in America, in granting hundreds of thousands of easy and questionable annulments, has contributed greatly to that devastation. I hope this greater scandal is finally exposed and ended.”
The husband in Nuzzo’s movie explains, “People like to think we respondents are attacking the Church when we work hard to defend our marriages, which is our right and obligation. We are responsible for the souls of our spouses and we are the ones strongly defending the Church and her teaching on marriage. Our voice needs to be heard.”
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.
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