Annulment Reform Needed, Vatican Official Says

VATICAN, September 17, 2004 ( - Marriage tribunals in some countries are abusing Church laws regarding annulments, a leading Vatican authority has charged.

Tribunals in some countries (notably the United States and Canada) are quick to provide annulments on uncertain grounds, while in other countries the faithful find it difficult to pursue even clear-cut cases of nullity. That was the testimony of Joaquin Llobel, a canon-law instructor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a member of the tribunal for the Apostolic Signatura.

Speaking on Vatican Radio on September 17, Llobel decried in inconsistency of treatment of marriage issues in different Catholic countries. The Vatican should insist on uniform application of Church law, he said.

“Some poor countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, do not even have ecclesiastical courts,” Llobel observed. In these countries, Catholics “do not have the opportunity to obtain a declaration of nullity—which is their right,” he pointed out. The first step toward reform, therefore, would be to ensure that every diocese gives the faithful a chance to present their cases before a tribunal.

“In other countries, on the other hand, the situation is quite the contrary,” Llobel continued. The Vatican tribunal judge cited the “tribunals whose mode of operation has often been criticized by John Paul II, which equate the failure of a marriage with its nullity.” Whenever a marriage breaks down, he said, these tribunals take that failure as evidence that a true Christian marriage never existed.

Although Llobel did not point to any particular country as he made this criticism, tribunal officials confirm that the Vatican is particularly concerned about American marriage courts, which frequently provide a finding of nullity on questionable grounds, such as evidence of “immaturity” of one or both partners in the union.

This approach to marital problems is clearly at odds with the teachings of the Church on the permanence of marriage and with the provisions of canon law, Llobel said. “These mentalities have to be reformed,” he added.

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