Monday, September 14, 2015

The Concerns Expressed in the "Secret Dossier"

A number of Churchmen are expressing alarm over what they believe to be the rashness of the Pope's Motu Proprio regarding a so-called "streamlining" of the annulment process.  This writer would modify that to "a further streamlining" of the process, since it has been pretty thoroughly streamlined already in recent decades.

Nevertheless this latest move is causing extreme concern among high-ranking ecclesiastics, as well as good priests who see it as their duty to protect marriage.  Dr Maike Hickson over at LifeSite News summarizes the points of concern:

  • The Pope did not consult those commissions in the Vatican which would and should be responsible in counseling him in such an important matter as the annulment process;
  • The Pope introduced de facto a “Catholic divorce”;
  • The normal procedures of the legislation in the Universal Church have been thus levered out;
  • Most of the safeguards in the process of annulling a marriage have been “intentionally 'eliminated'”;
  • “None of the prescribed steps of a legislative procedure have been kept,” according to the dossier;
  • The Bishops' Conferences, the relevant Congregations and Councils and even the Apostolic Signatura (the highest court of the Church also dealing with the annulments) were not consulted;
  • “Already, formally, there are to be found grave defects [in the very making of the Motu Proprio]”;
  • Against the often proclaimed and invited principles of synodality and of “openness” (i.e., “Parrhesia”), the Pope nonetheless decided seemingly rashly to go ahead with the Motu Proprio, even though at the last Synod of Bishops in 2014, there was not yet a “unanimous consent” to carry forth this streamlining move;
  • The viewpoint has now changed, moving away from the concern to preserve marriages. In the Motu Proprio there is no talk anymore about “pastoral and juridical means for the rescue or validation of a marriage”; the fact that they are missing indeed “causes reflection”;
  • All in all, this speedy development is “dangerous”;
  • There is a strong impression that “it is not anymore about stating the truth concerning a concrete marriage bond, but, rather, about declaring to be invalid as many marriages as possible.”
  • That means that, concretely, the Dogma of the indissolubility of marriage is being hollowed out, even though Pope Francis mentions the Dogma twice in his text;
  • The introduction of a 30-day-quick procedure for the formal determination of a possible declaration of nullity of a marriage “contains the danger of introducing the path to a Catholic divorce”; many of the 3600 diocesan bishops in the world will be most probably overwhelmed by this new mission; additionally, the dossier wonders “how many bishops in the world are able to make a trustworthy assessment which also makes them come to the expected moral certainty [about the validity of a specific marriage]”;
  • Many theologically contested problems have been simply ignored by Pope Francis;
  • Several passages in the Motu Proprio contain very vague formulations which are purportedly to help someone decide whether the quick procedure itself ought to be started – such as someone's putatively “lacking Faith” or other reasons that are not unequivocally specified;
  • The consensus of both spouses (or even the complete lack of response by one of them) is a sufficient reason in order to start the quick procedure, all of which is “concerning”;
  • “It is a novelty in the legislation that a legal text ends with the expression 'etc.' and it thus thereby keeps open other options”;
  • Pope Francis did not himself follow the regular procedures of legislation.

The Church can easily suffer even more if these reforms are simply adopted without a lot more careful reasoning and a lot less impetuosity and rashness.

The motivations for this papal action are as yet unclear, given the often "forward then backward" words and actions of Francis.  One hopes that he must see that this monkey wrench which he has just flung into the machinery opens up untold dangers on many fronts, and most certainly gives ammunition to the Church's enemies always so pleased to shout "hypocrisy!" whenever the occasion presents itself.  Furthermore, it could do harm to the delicate relationship between Catholic and Orthodox believers, as any evidence of surrender on the Catholic side only makes it more difficult to put an end to the most unnecessary schism in history.

I am not sure what can be done to counter a papal Motu Proprio, if anything.  More knowledgeable readers can help out on this question.

But from our poorly-informed perch on the Catholic tree we think the timing of this couldn't be worse.

Dr Hickson's article can be read at this link:

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