Trent, the Pope, and Annulment “Reform”


“[T]here is the legal problem of matrimonial nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this”. – Pope Francis, 28 July 2013

“Can we eliminate the necessity of having detailed personal interviews, hefty fees, testimony from witnesses, psychological exams, and automatic appeals to other tribunals? In lieu of this formal court-like process, which some participants have found intimidating, can we rely more on the conscientious personal judgment of spouses about the history of their marriage (after all, they are the ministers and recipients of the sacrament!) and their worthiness to receive Holy Communion?”  – Bishop Thomas Tobin, 21 September 2014

“CANON XII. If any one saith, that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges; let him be anathema.” – Council of Trent, Session XXIV, 11 November 1543

12 thoughts on “Trent, the Pope, and Annulment “Reform”

  1. Interesting. It appears that Bp. Tobin may have excommunicated himself, unless he publicly repudiates his own words; that is, answers his own questions with an unequivocal “no” as publicly as he asked them.

    I suspect that the ‘innovators’, led or at least enabled by Francis, have overplayed their hand. That’s the thing about sodomites and adulterers, and their enablers: they will always insist on more acceptance of perversion until they bring fire and destruction down upon their own heads. That’s why it isn’t ‘mercy’, but rather is terribly cruel, to affirm them in their okayness.

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  2. I’ve never explored the question of whether the code of canon law can literally override the authority of Canons of an ecumenical council. Is it really tenable that the promulgation of the 1983 code made all council declarations of anathema in the entire history of the Church just disappear?


  3. The comment from Pope Francis does not seem problematic, as there is no issue with adjusting the legal process of determining whether annulments ought to be granted. The two comments strike very different notes: whereas the one says that the current legal system is insufficient, the other seems to call for the eradication of any legal system whatsoever.


    • DZ: The pope’s words can be taken a couple of ways: 1) Ecclesiastical tribunals should be *replaced* because they are insufficient; 2) ecclesiastical tribunals should be *supplemented* because they are insufficient. I don’t believe he is saying that ecclesiastical tribunals should be *modified* because they are insufficient: he says they are insufficient in themselves. That comes pretty close to bumping up against Trent. Based on the kind of discussion and speculation the pope is obviously encouraging, I strongly suspect he desires #1. Bishop Tobin is not the kind of firebrand personality who would float an idea like this without believing that Rome had his back. But the pope may have to settle for #2, if the Holy Ghost is allowed his vote.


  4. This hardly counts as serious due diligence, but I did the following as the beginning of due diligence:

    1) I googled around to find out more about the notion that the anathemas of Trent have been rescinded by the 1983 code.

    I found one Catholic media apologist – Jimmy Akin – who claims that this is so. He was quoted widely by many sources, but the postings and articles I found came back to a couple of articles published by Akin. I could not find anywhere where Akin himself provides the basis for his view or any references for his view.

    I found a trained theologian, Ron Conte, who claims the contrary, that the 1983 code leaves the Canons of ecumenical councils untouched.

    That’s from about a half hour of googling around.

    2) I acquired a PDF copy of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. A few things may be of immediate interest:

    i) The Code only applies to the Latin Church (Canon 1). Trent applies universally to the whole Church. So offhand it seems that the most one could claim – which would be an odd situation – is that the Trent anathemas don’t apply in the Latin Rite but they apply everywhere else.

    ii) The term “anathema” does not appear anywhere in the Code. How the code can rescind something that it never mentions is a puzzle I’ll leave to those who claim that Trent’s anathemas have been rescinded.

    iii) The term “council” appears many times. I looked at each and every instance instance. In no instance does it refer to any effect that the Code has on Canons of ecumenical councils. It does reaffirm the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils (Canon 749.2), and in general is affirmative about their authority. Again, I’ll leave it to those defending the theory to explain how the 1983 code can explicitly override and render null canons of ecumenical councils without actually mentioning them.

    I’m just some guy, but frankly it is going to take a lot more then “Jimmy Akin said so” to convince me that all of the anathemas pronounced by all the ecumenical councils in all of their canons over thousands of years just disappeared with the promulgation of a code of canon law in 1983 which doesn’t even discuss them.


  5. These canons from the section “Title I: Ecclesiastical Laws” may be pertinent:

    Canon 20 A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law, if it expressly so states, or if it is directly contrary to that law, or if it integrally reorders the whole subject matter of the earlier law. A universal law, however, does not derogate from a particular or from a special law, unless the law expressly provides otherwise.

    Canon 21 In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed; rather, later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them.

    Even assuming for the sake of argument that the 1983 canon law has the authority to override not just an ecumenical council but all ecumenical councils over thousands of years which pronounced anathemas, it seems more than a little bit of a stretch to meet the requirements of Canon 20 when this whole subject is (as far as I can tell) never even mentioned in the code. And given the Canon 21 requirement to give force to previous law when in doubt, it is hard to see where the theory that no anathemas are in force anymore can gain even a shred of credibility.

    But again, I’m just some guy, and nobody (including me) should take the fruits of an hour or two of my googling as gospel.


  6. Pingback: Let Cardinal Kasper And Bishop Tobin Be Anathema! | Mundabor's Blog

  7. I am grievously appalled at the nonsense of this Relatio: it seems to me that a very large share of the time, expense, effort, and manipulations of the marriage tribunals would simply go away if we stopped trying to pretend that “psychological immaturity” in a normal 25-year old could be a cause of nullity. Cases of nullity should be reserved, as intended from the beginning, to cases where one or both of the couple did not intend fidelity, permanence, or children, or where they did not marry under canonical norms. It is ridiculous that we should find, in a couple that was married for 30 years and had 5 kids, that they failed to “intend” marriage on some strange obscure basis. If this were real, then we would have to resort to Solon’s answer to the question “Is there any happy man?” His response: “call no man happy until he is dead.” In our case: call no man married until he is dead. Or, to paraphrase Mark Twain: No man’s marriage is safe when the Tribunal is in session.

    That said, while I agree that the Relatio in the above passage seems to defy the spirit of the Trent Canon, it may not defy the literal import. I suspect, though I have not researched the matter so this is just a suspicion, the Canon in Trent speaks to a specific Protestant error: that ecclesiastical judges have no authority to speak to the validity or nullity of a marriage. The Protestants at issue were probably magnifying the scope of the internal forum and conscience to the outer reaches of the universe, and thus explicitly denying that any authority outside of the 2 who marry have a capacity to speak to the marriage. The Canon directly repudiates such an error.

    Theoretically left untouched by the Canon would be 2 additional statements: (1) in addition to ecclesiastical judges, there are other people with capacity to speak to the validity or nullity of marriage, possibly in a competent determinative capacity but at least in an advisory capacity. (2) The allowable methods of carrying out determinations of validity or nullity do not absolutely require in every case resort to the ecclesiastical tribunal.

    Here is what I am thinking, in a kind of generic analogy: Canon law makes room for the fact that the ministers of matrimony are the couple themselves. If, due to circumstances, the couple cannot approach a priest or deacon for a specified period of time (a month – see canon 1116), they can contract marriage without said clergy. In a sort of near-reverse of that, it might be possible in certain cases (e.g. cases where there is clear and definitive documentation) that a couple “married” outside the Church – say with a justice of the peace at the courthouse – possibly a simple validation of that fact by the parish priest, or even a canon lawyer recognized by the diocese. could be sufficient to announce the nullity of the marriage. A video of the so-called “marriage”, along with attestation by the home parishes of both parties that they (the parishes) never received any notification of a marriage, should be sufficient documentation for proof. Two weeks of letters back and forth, no money, and no involvement at the diocesan level at all.

    That is to say, I believe that it is this kind of scenario that the Relatio is alluding to that seems plausible, to get the nose of the camel into the tent. They won’t stop at these cases for their judicial simplifications.

    [Of course, the Church could choose to eradicate the norm that marriages must be celebrated before duly appointed clerics, thus making it that a marriage before a justice of the peace could be a VALID marriage, as long as the form of the vows included the necessary ingredients. That would spike the easiest basis of annulment ;-) ]


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