Canon Law Complaint from Member of the Faithful Against his Bishop
A Catholic filed a canon law complaint against his own Bishop to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota because of scandalous writings published by the diocese about marriage and divorce. For now, the identity of the aggrieved layperson and the Bishop are being kept confidential. We’ll call the member of the faithful Joe.
Joe received no reply to a letter he sent to his Bishop on October 2 expressing his concern that the diocesan Tribunal requires a petitioner to have a civil divorce prior filing for a Church annulment. Annulment is short for a judgement of the invalidity a marriage – finding that no valid marriage occurred on the wedding day. Joe showed his Bishop where the diocesan website teaches, “divorce itself does not prohibit a Catholic from receiving the sacraments.” Joe says, “These statements harm faith and good morals because the faithful are given an incorrect understanding of civil divorce” and giving the wrong impression “that the only obligation of marriage that is of interest to the Church is the obligation to avoid attempting a so-called second marriage without an annulment first.”
Joe finds that the Bishop’s permission is required prior to anyone filing in the civil forum for divorce (civil separation, or civil annulment). To support his position, he showed his Bishop writings from the Council of Trent (yr. 1563), Pope Pius VI (1788), USA particular law (1885), and internationally respected canon law commentaries published in Spanish, English, and Italian over the last 15 years. All these sources show that an individual Catholic is not allowed to judge, on his own volition, that he has the right to permanent separation of spouses and the right to file in the civil forum for divorce (civil separation, separate maintenance, or civil annulment). Joe gave his Bishop examples of the injustices imposed on faithful spouses and innocent children by government judges:
[T]he divorce judge relieves abandoners of the obligation to maintain the common conjugal life even when no canonical/moral legitimate basis for separation exists (See c. 104, 1153). The divorce judge wrongly forfeits the right of a fit spouse to have everyday access to one’s children which is a natural and canonical right (See c. 226 §2, 1136). The divorce judge wrongly relieves a spouse of the obligation to contribute the full share of mutual help to the marital home (See 1983 CIC c. 1055 and 1917 CIC c. 1013 §1).
Today, Joe’s canonical action against his Bishop was delivered to the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC. He’s asking the Tribunal of the Roman Rota to judge whether his Bishop is publishing writings on his diocesan website that gravely harm public morals, provoking his subjects to disobedience, causing many priests to solicit a penitent to commit a sin against the sixth commandment, asserting something false in a public ecclesiastic documents, and failing in his duty to urge the observance of ecclesiastical laws. All these offenses can bind the Tribunal of the Roman Rota to issue punishment of the Bishop. Lastly, Joe asked for a judgement about whether the Bishop is “gravely wounding the faithful who are keeping their marriage promises and the faithful’s children who are deprived of everyday access to the same parent.”
In his letter to the Roman Rota, Joe says, “The necessity of some kind of ecclesiastic process/proceeding concluding in a decision when one alleges to have a legitimate cause for separation of spouses is imperative. Marriage involves the public good and in separation cases, every case must involve the Promoter of Justice. While specifics regarding the identity of the authority with competence to decide and rules of the process are not of divine law, the necessity of an ecclesiastic process is of divine law.”
In coming weeks, Joe should receive notice from the Roman Rota about the acceptance of his petition. He hopes that the U.S. Bishops will stop their silence every time a Catholic spouse files for civil divorce. Especially with no-fault divorce, the civil forum gravely wounds children and the spouse who is counting on the marriage promises to be upheld. “Many divorced persons are persisting daily in the sin of marital abandonment or other failings to uphold marriage obligations for which one must promise to amend prior to receiving the sacraments,” wrote Joe.
Mary’s Advocates announced in October that members of the faithful were raising concerns with their bishops about the annulment Tribunals’ requirement for a divorce and the disregard of the canon law applicable prior to divorce. If a bishop does not address the concerns, others like Joe, will be asking for help from the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. Anyone else interested in raising similar concerns in their diocese and in the Tribunal of the Roman Rota can contact me (Bai Macfarlane firstname.lastname@example.org).