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Canonist: Pope took a ‘significant step back’ from annulment reform in Rota speech

ROME, January 27, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) ­– In an address Friday to the Roman Rota, the Vatican court that deals with marriage annulment cases, Pope Francis has “taken a significant step back” from his annulment reform, according to canonist Ed Peters.

One controversial aspect of the reform, published as a decree in August 2015, was the inclusion of “lack of faith” as one of the grounds for a possible fast tracked annulment.

In his address to the Rota on Friday, the pope noted that “quality of faith” is not an essential condition of marital consent, and pointed out the faith infused at baptism continues to have influence on the soul even “when it has not been developed and even seems to be psychologically absent.”

America’s best known canonist, Peters told LifeSiteNews that he welcomed Pope Francis’ “significant step back from what many canonists saw as a problematic position,” in the annulment reform decree (called Mitis Iudex), “regarding ‘lack of faith’ and its possible relation to marriage nullity.”

“In Mitis, Francis had listed a ‘lack of faith’ that results in simulation of consent or an error that determines the will as grounds for a speedier annulment process,” said Peters, adding that the “formulation was confusing in several respects.”

Peters explained:

First, although “simulation” (c. 1101) and “error determining” (c. 1099) are recognized grounds for annulment, such cases tend to be, for a number of reasons, factually complicated—certainly no tribunal sees them as being so simple that they could be heard quickly, yet they are listed in Mitis as qualifying for a speedier process. Second, “lack of faith” is not currently recognized as a ground for annulment, but some serious canonical and theological literature is beginning to ask whether a “lack of faith” ought to be so recognized. It’s a fair question, but one that modern marriage experts are only just beginning to reflect seriously on. How, then, “lack of faith” suddenly qualified as grounds for a speedy annulment case was, to put it mildly, unclear. Finally, Mitis was ambiguous regarding whether it was a “lack or faith” itself, or classic simulation and/or error determining, that was to serve as basis for a speedier process.

Peters says in his address to the Rota, Francis has quieted some of these concerns. “It is not, it seems, ‘lack of faith’ that is of primary concern but, one gathers, the better recognized grounds of simulation and/or error determining that are important.” Peters believes “this is a prudent pontifical stepping back from what was coming across, at least, as a premature leap into uncharted waters.”

Peters admits that there are some sound canonists and theologians legitimately investigating the theory that lack of faith might contribute to marriage nullity, but that this should not be proposed for accelerated annulment cases.

One line in Francis’ address that caught major media attention was his statement that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union.”  Given that a Family Day demonstration is to take place January 30 to protest a government proposal to allow for homosexual civil unions, the statement was seen by some as support for the pro-family demonstration.

Vatican reporter John Allen notes that while plausible, the pope did not formally endorse Family Day and named Bishop Nunzio Galantino, an opponent of the Family Day, as the next president of the Italian bishops conference.  Allen also notes that a recent cancelled appointment with the current conference president, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who backs Family Day, has been seen as an indirect rebuke.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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