Saturday, February 03, 2007

Grounds for Nullity?

Led by its dean, the recently-ordained Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz, the Roman Rota -- the church's second-highest court of appeals which serves as final arbiter for cases of disputed annulments -- was received last week for the traditional papal audience to mark the start of its judicial year.

At the outset of each new term, the round-table's auditors, or judges (in purple above with the Pope and the Rota's staff), compile a report of the more unusual petitions they receive, and one involving a marriage literally gone up in smoke has garnered some interest.
[A] health and physical fitness enthusiast asked his girlfriend to marry him on condition she would eventually quit smoking.

She said yes and after they tied the knot she tried her best but her addiction was stronger than her and the marriage went up in smoke -- at least from the husband's point of view.

A first diocesan marriage tribunal granted him the annulment but a second tribunal overturned that decision. They are still married in the eyes of the Church and the case is now before the Vatican's Rota.

Another thread of the more, er, amusing cases involves the age-old phenomenon familiar to Italians everywhere: i mammoni.
Other [petitions] included cases where one of the partners, usually the men, had a "morbid dependence" on their parents -- a not uncommon occurrence in Italy where many men tend to stay at home until they marry even if they make top-dollar salaries.

One other case involved a man who asked for an annulment because his wife stopped taking care of herself and her looks after she got married and he considered himself "tricked" into marrying a person who turned out to be different.

Although divorce has been legal in Roman Catholic Italy for more than 35 years, it is still seen by many as a social stigma and some prefer to have their marriages annulled so they can remarry in Church.

However much I'm trying not to, I have, shall we say, a vested interest in that first case.

More importantly, though, this is a good time to highlight the growing presence in many dioceses of an advocate program to assist those seeking annulments navigate the process.

As the ways of an ecclesiastical tribunal can seem labyrinthine to more than just some, the advocates -- sometimes deacons, but usually laity -- get a thorough training in tribunal procedures and the relevant sections of the canons. Once commissioned, they serve to keep petitioners informed, are available for the crucial tasks of answering questions, helping with paperwork and, most of all, dispelling those misconceptions which the nature of ecclesiastical jurisprudence can sometimes bring about.

Advocate programs are often a bit arduous to set up, requiring a lot of effort and initiative on the part of dioceses and those who give of their time to volunteer. However, the investment at the outset pays off again and again, both in making an oft-difficult process more understandable and in the advocates' embodiment of presence and understanding, which is key.

Their work doesn't just help toward regularizing a situation, but in building the confidence and involvement of our people in an important area of ecclesial life. For all they do, our advocates deserve the thanks of a grateful church.