At the Vatican, one of the results of the recent synod of bishops was an announcement that they are looking into streamlining the annulment process, making it more accessible and less costly. Plus, some voted to further investigate the practice of denying Holy Communion to those in so-called second marriages. See "Relatio Synodi" item 48, 52 and 53
In a compelling sermon recorded by AudioSancto.org, an articulate Catholic priest who asked to remain anonymous, declared that many tribunals in the United States have scandalous annulment practices because they don't uphold marriage at all - and actually encourage divorce. His 36-minute long sermon "What God has Joined Together" is available on Video Sancto's YouTube channel, www.AudioSancto.org, and Romans10Seventeen.org.
Audio Sancto explains that they will not identify the priest, "because they have duties and responsibilities as priests to care for the souls of the Faithful entrusted to them. By remaining unidentified, their attention for their flock won't be divided by folks outside of their parish who might seek them out for questions rather than going to their local priests."
Official Catholic teaching has always been that marriage is permanent and to enter a so-called second marriage is a serious sin and those in serious sin cannot partake in Holy Communion. Getting an annulment is important, because if the first marriage was really not a marriage at all, then there is nothing wrong with entering a second marriage.
An annulment is the popular name for a formal decree issued by a Catholic tribunal concluding, after an investigation, that a marriage was invalid. Just like a civil contract could be invalid if it was entered due to one party's fraud, so a church marriage contract would be invalid if it was entered because one party lied about an essential element of marriage, such as being open to children (c. 1101). In the civil arena, those with serious menial illness might be found unable to make lawfully binding contracts, so too with the church system. A person that lacks the use of reason could not entry a valid Catholic wedding either (c. 1095.1).
While serving as the Prefect of the Catholic Church's highest tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke, in and interview on ETWN's The World Over, said sometimes "there are tribunals who are abusive and giving easy declarations of nullity." See YouTube.
Citing statistics published by the Canon Law Society of America, the anonymous priest's sermon points out that 40 U.S. tribunals granted annulments to 100% of those who asked for them. He names the dioceses in 2011 that issued annulments 100% of the times for the highest number of marriages: Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. He also names the diocese that upheld the validity of marriage the most: St. Paul/Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, and Ft. Wayne/South Bend and thereafter raises a simple point.
In his homily, as recorded by AudioSancto.org, the priest said "So two possibilities spring to mind. Either the people that live and get married in St. Paul or Minneapolis or Colorado Springs or Fort Wayne or South Bend are significantly different than all the other American couples - significantly different- or the tribunals are significantly different. I don't think you need me to point out to you which is more likely." See YouTube, minute 20:07
In the sermon, the anonymous priest also cites statistics from U.S. cases that were appealed to the tribunals at the Vatican's appellate tribunal (Roman Rota). In the early 1990's, studies over a ten-year period showed that over 90 percent of the defective consent cases, were overturned by the Roman Rota. Defective consent is a popular basis for granting annulments used by U.S. tribunals that according to Saint John Paul II, is applicable to those suffering from grave psychic anomalies or mental illness (can. 1692.2).
In a 2012 canon law dissertation endorsed by Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, author Fr. Jaime Ponce found cases wherein U.S. tribunals erroneously based their decision on expert testimony of psychologists who were making alleged diagnosis that were not supported by the facts in the case. In these situations, Fr. Ponce showed that the U.S. tribunal decisions were overturned by the Roman Rota. In his introductory comments, Fr. Ponce describes how, in some diocese, there is a strong pro-nullity mentality. See Spero News.
"A former Judicial Vicar cautiously stated that his bishop had removed him from his position as Judicial Vicar because he would not comply with the request of his diocese. The request was to grant over 95% of annulments of all the cases that arrived to his diocesan tribunal. He stated that in good conscience he could not do this, and that he could not grant a decree of nullity, automatically, to anybody who applied for it. Therefore, for this simple matter, he was removed from his position. He defended the sanctity of marriage, and yet, he was sanctioned for doing so."
In the anonymous priest's sermon on Audio Sancto, he says "American tribunals actually require a civil divorce before in spite of the fact that he bible says that the Lord hates divorce, the code of canon law requires the bishop's permission to approach the divorce court."
He added, "Given that annulments are not considered until after a civil divorce, its obvious that the prospect of an easy annulment could encourage couples who are having a tough time in their marriage to break up. And what could possibly be more encouraging to that end than these annulment mills that just pump out a decree of annulment 100% of the time. It is scandalous. It is easy to see how someone could think, "Hey, if there are so many invalid marriages, maybe my marriage wasn't valid either." And to the very degree that this sort of impression becomes more widespread in the general Catholic population, to that very same degree, the stability and security of everybody's marriages are weakened. This just shakes and undermines the foundations."
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