Consequences of the sacramental 'yes'
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
Due to the growing number of requests in the world, especially in America, directed to diocesan tribunals concerning matrimonial nullity, the Apostolic See promulgated a special document entitled Dignitas connubii (Dignity of marriage). Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this as well. The document - instruction, has not been commonly known yet. Its aim is to protect the sacrament of marriage, which has special dignity given by God.
Legal controversies concern the interpretation of Can. 1095 of the Code of Canon Law, which says, 'The following are incapable of contracting marriage: 1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason; 2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted; 3/ those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.'
The instruction specifies the general formulation of the canon and stresses that a declaration of matrimonial nullity can be granted only in special situations when marriage was invalid for various reasons at the moment of its contraction.
In a process of matrimonial nullity the above-mentioned canon usually requires opinions of trustworthy experts. For some time one has observed activities of special lawyers' offices, which offer help to write requests, including suitable argumentation, to the ecclesiastical tribunals and which charge high fees for their services. It may happen that people who make a lot of money on human naivety and ignorance take up these matters. It seems that family counselling should help here as being more competent in ecclesiastical proceedings. Certainly, the whole problem can be properly dealt with in the very beginning, namely it would be clear that there are no divorces in the Catholic Church and in some justified cases there is a possibility to render a contracted marriage invalid. (The often-used term 'matrimonial nullity' is erroneous - annulment assumes that at first marriage was valid and then it was rendered invalid). Of course, one can always approach the ecclesiastical tribunal, which will give information in the most complete and competent way. A marriage is valid in the Catholic Church when it is contracted in the presence of an ecclesiastical witness (the local Ordinary, parish priest or of the priest or deacon delegated by either of them) and in the presence of two witnesses. Before a marriage is contracted future spouses are instructed about their functions. The Catholic Church organizes preparation classes commonly known as Pre-Cana. Unfortunately, especially in big cities one can see a growing tendency towards broken marriages, which often end with processes of the so-called 'church divorce' as if the moment of contracting marriage - oath of fidelity made to God and people - was only a solemn signing of some contract, but in fact it is a sacramental relationship. In order to speak about matrimonial nullity one need to provide important facts which render a marriage invalid in the very beginning, and such facts are few although many spouses may think during their marriage that the person he contracted union with is not the one he imagined to spend his life with. In the ecclesiastical judicial trial concerning the question of validity one should 'screen' the very moment of contraction of the marriage in question. The whole judicial process aims at showing whether at the moment of contraction marriage was valid or invalid.
The first instance tribunal and the second instance tribunal must give an identical judgement in matrimonial proceedings. For example, the Metropolitan Tribunal in Czestochowa gives judgements as tribunal of first instance. If a judge has given a judgement of matrimonial nullity in first instance, the defender of the bond appeals to the second instance tribunal, in this case to Krakow. If the second instance tribunal grants matrimonial nullity a person can contract a second marriage after the verdict is rendered final and binding.
Why am I speaking about this today? Because once again I want to stress the importance of the decision - to contract a sacramental marriage, and I want to appeal for responsibility in choosing a spouse and in remembering about the consequences of such steps. And if we add human tears, bitterness of failure, loss of precious time, then the answer to the question whether it is worth acting rashly in such an important life issue is self-evident.