1019 L Fri 1 Feb 2002
There is an article in The Australian today about the Catholic
Church: "Not a law unto themselves" by Rosemary Neill.
In Australia, the church turns away people seeking annulments
if they haven't already finalised divorce proceedings.
I don't know what basis she has for writing this. No evidence
is presented to support the claim.
[Update of 4 Feb 2002: from the link to the Melbourne Tribunal
website the claim seems justified. It says:
"Are there any effects in Civil Law?
In Australia ecclesiastical annulments have no civil effects
and a civil divorce decree must be obtained before any formal
action to investigate a marriage may be taken at a Catholic Tribunal."]
It presents the Catholic Church in Australia as encouraging
civil divorce proceedings for those with marriages that may be
I think such an approach would be contrary to the teaching
in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2382. The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention
of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.[Cf.
Mt 5:31-32 ; Mt 19:3-9 ; Mk 10 9 ; Lk
16:18 ; 1 Cor 7:10-ll .] He abrogates the accommodations
that had slipped into the old Law.[Cf. Mt 19:7-9 .]
Between the baptized, 'a ratified and consummated marriage cannot
be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than
death.'[CIC, can. 1141.]
2383. The separation of spouses while maintaining the
marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for
by canon law.[Cf. CIC, cann. 1151-1155.]
If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain
legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of
inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral
2384. Divorce is a grave offense against the natural
law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely
consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury
to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is
the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by
civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried
spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:
If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman,
he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery,
and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she
has drawn another's husband to herself.[St. Basil, Moralia
73, 1: PG 31, 849-852.]
2385. Divorce is immoral also because it introduces
disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings
grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by
the separation of their parents and often torn between them,
and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague
2386. It can happen that one of the spouses is the
innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse
therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable
difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful
to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one
who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid
marriage.[Cf. FC 84.]
The rights of Catholics are described in The Code of Canon
Law and include:
221.1 Christ's faithful may lawfully vindicate and defend
the rights they enjoy in the Church before the competent ecclesiastical
forum in accordance with the law. ...
So they have the right to seek annulments if they believe
their marriage may be invalid. In a general sense Canon Law encourages
the avoidance of all lawsuits:
Canon 1446.1 All Christ's faithful, and especially Bishops,
are to strive earnestly, with due regard for justice, to ensure
that lawsuits among the people of God are as far as possible
avoided, and are settled promptly and without rancour. ...
This is particularly emphasized for marriage cases:
Canon 1676. Before he accepts a case and whenever there appears
to be a hope of success, the judge is to use pastoral means to
persuade the spouses that, if it is possible, they should perhaps
validate their marriage and resume their conjugal life.
What does Rosemary Neill mean by saying "the church turns
people away"? Perhaps this is simply referring to this process
of pastoral persuasion. But she seems to be saying some people
within the Catholic Church do not allow other members of the
Catholic Church to bring cases to the Tribunal. But procedures
for bringing cases are given in Canon Law:
1502 A person who wishes to sue another must present a petition
to a judge who is lawfully competent.
The judge can reject the petition, but only on the grounds
given in Canon 1505.2. The four grounds could be summarized as:
(1) the judge or Tribunal is not competent to hear it. (2) It
is beyond doubt that the plaintiff lacks the right to stand before
the court. (3) The petition lacks required information. (4) The
plea lacks any foundation and there is no possibility it will
emerge from the process.
This rejection can be appealed to another Tribunal.
1330 L Mon
4 Feb 2002
So it seems to me that the instruction from the Melbourne
Tribunal: "a civil divorce decree must be obtained before
any formal action to investigate a marriage may be taken at a
Catholic Tribunal" are not in accord with the Code of Canon
1823 L Sat
23 Feb 2002
I have been reading Archbishop Pell's Daily Telegraph article
for 10 February 2002. The whole article can be found on
... In the Catholic Church, through church tribunals, it is
possible to obtain an annulment, a declaration that a marriage
never truly existed. The grounds for this are limited e.g.
a refusal to have any children, but this possibility is not offered
just for the rich and famous.
While only a minority of cases qualify, all Catholics caught
up in marriage breakdown are free to apply and the costs are
A civil divorce is necessary before an annulment case can
ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 1 February 2002. Last updated
30 March 2002.