If you aren’t already reading Edward Peters on annulments…

(CNS photo illustration by Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

…you really need to be, given the confusion and speculation swirling around the subject ahead of October’s General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

All of Dr. Peters’ recent posts on the subject are required reading for those seeking a clear understanding of the issues and questions involved in the thorny annulment debate; in his latest post, he examines the arguments put forth by Sister Mary Ann Walsh in America magazine. Another post, from last week, gives a very helpful overview of the two “sides” currently pushing for annulment reform:

The first group (those holding that there are too many annulments), can scarcely suggest any procedural reforms (short of requiring tribunals to stamp DENIED on every annulment petition) for nothing about current canon and special law makes declaring marriage nullity easy. Under current ecclesiastical law, nullity must be proven, on specific grounds, based on sworn declarations and testimony, over the arguments of an independent officer, and confirmed on appeal. There are, that I can see, no gaps in the process through which marriage cases may slip quietly but wrongly into nullity. …

No, the objections of the first group to the number of annulments being declared is, I suggest, not to the annulment process but to the people running that process. Tribunal officers are, it is alleged, too naive, too heterodox, or just too lazy to reach sound decisions on nullity petitions; they treat annulments as tickets to a second chance at happiness owed to people who care enough to fill out the forms. How exactly members of this first group can reach their conclusion without extended experience in tribunal work and without adverting to the cascade of evidence that five decades of social collapse in the West and a concomitant collapse of catechetical and canonical work in the Church is wreaking exactly the disastrous effects on real people trying to enter real marriages that the Church has always warned about, escapes me. Nevertheless that is essentially their claim: the process needs no major reform, processors do.

Neither can the second group (those holding that there are too few annulments) credibly point to specific reforms of the annulment process for (with two exceptions noted below) every phase of the current annulment process is required by natural law to serve the ends of justice (and, as Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly reminded us, the annulment process is about justice—not mercy, not charity, not warm fuzzy feelings, but justice); to eliminate any of these steps would be to gut the unavoidably juridic nature of the annulment process. … Remove any of these steps and, whatever ‘process’ one is left with, it’s not a legal one. Thus I say, push proponents of the second school to be clear, and what most of them must admit seeking is the “de-juridicization” of the annulment process. It’s their right, of course, to make such a proposal, but one should not confuse calls tantamount to elimination of a process with calls for reform of a process.

As the synod draws nearer, the debates over the annulment process, as well as the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, have been increasingly characterized by uninformed speculation and personal attacks. Peters’ contributions to these discussions are invaluable, both because of his expertise in canon law and because his approach is unfailingly non-hysterical and civil.

The same cannot be said of this drive-by blogging by the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters, who took aim at Peters for…being logical? Being a canon lawyer, and writing about canon law? Winters says Peters “pours cold water” on Cardinal Angelo Scola’s proposed changes to the annulment process (Peters’ post on the subject is here), but it is Winters who is pouring cold water on an attempt to have a reasoned discussion of a controversial subject. Peters examines Cardinal Scola’s arguments and responds respectfully and methodically. Winters, by contrast, doesn’t engage Peters’ argument, but prefers to shut down the conversation on this hot-button topic with a sneer.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.