Five translations of Saint Pope John Paul II’s often-quoted instruction to tribunal judges was removed from the Vatican’s website some time last year. It is now only available in Italian.
Each year, the Pope gives an address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota and these are instructions to the world’s canon lawyers from THE legislator, the Pope. In 1987, Saint Pope John Paul II gave an address that cautioned against misusing the grounds for nullity of marriage - particularly “on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness” (Canon 1095).
I posted a YouTube video on the Mary’s Advocates channel, showing how the Vatican’s website used to have a page showing all of Saint Pope John Paul’s addresses to the Roman Rota (in up to six different languages). That webpage was removed some time last year, which I demonstrate in my video by using a public webpage archiving tool, “way back time machine.”
Marriage became increasingly unstable after the sexual revolution. With the onset of no-fault divorce, the civil courts no longer expected a party to uphold promises made in marriage. From a Catholic’s perspective, a civil divorce is nothing more than a separation decree and only a church decree of invalidity of marriage frees both parties to enter a new marriage. An annulment is the loose term used for a decree of invalidity of a marriage.
Mary’s Advocates is a non-profit educational organization that I founded over ten years ago and we work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce and achieve, instead, just and fair separation plans.
Unilateral no-fault divorce is unfair because no distinction is made between a party that is reneging on his marital promises and the party that is counting on the other to uphold those promises. If a party really was incapable of marriage because of a serious psychic anomaly, this fact should be relevant to a fair and just separation plan for custody, property split, and support. The Church has an interest in these matters, which is further explained on the Mary’s Advocate’s website.
In Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1987 address to the tribunal, he cautioned against the “scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage being practically destroyed by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity of marriage in cases of the failure of marriage.” He taught, “By preventing the ecclesiastical tribunal from becoming an easy way out for the dissolution of marriages that have failed, […] it also brings about an increased commitment in the use of resources for pastoral care of people after marriage.” He cites Familiaris Consortio’s instruction for helping married couples in day-to-day married life, long before anyone is thinking about divorce.
In my research, I found that in the active tribunals that cover half the population of the United States in 2012, they granted annulment (on average) in 98.7 percent of the cases judged.
In the summer of 2015, Pope Francis made some newsworthy changes to the annulment process, making them less expensive and faster. However, the grounds for annulment themselves were technically not changed. Sometime after that, the English translation of Saint Pope John Paul’s 1987 speech the Roman Rota appears to be missing from the Vatican’s website, along with the list of all of his speeches in multiple languages.
In June of 2016, Pope Francis’s comment that “the vast majority of marriages are invalid” led to critiques from many canonists. For example, see Fr. Gerald Murray on EWTN.
Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.