New Instruction Aims to Help in Annulment Cases

«Dignitas Connubii» Clarifies Norms of Canon Law

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2005 ( The Holy See has published a new guide to help diocesan and interdiocesan tribunals in cases of marriage annulment.

Cardinal Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, presented the instruction «Dignitas Connubii» (The Dignity of Marriage) to the press today as «a sort of vademecum,» a handbook.

The guide helps to interpret the Code of Canon Law, whose laws for the declaration of marriage annulment continue entirely in force.

The 219-page text, subdivided in 15 chapters and 308 articles, was written by the pontifical council with the collaboration of other Vatican dicasteries: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, and the Roman Rota.

«‘Dignitas Connubii,'» says the document itself, «is intended as an aid for judges and those who work in the ecclesiastical tribunals, who have been entrusted with the sacred office of decision in cases of marriage annulment.»

The instruction affects only the tribunals of the Latin Church (it does not affect those of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome).

It states that «the right to judge cases of marriage annulment of heads of state is solely the competence of the Roman Pontiff.»

In his presentation to the press, Cardinal Herranz explained that some observers are tempted to misinterpret «annulment processes,» «as if they were simply ways to obtain a divorce with the apparent consent of the Church.»

In this way, «through a clever manipulation of the causes of annulment, any failed marriage becomes null,» the cardinal said.

The popes, however, Cardinal Herranz continued, «have shown many times the authentic sense of marriage annulments, inseparable from the search for truth, as the declaration of annulment is in no way a dissolution of the existing bond, but rather the verification, in the name of the Church, of the inexistence from the beginning of a true marriage.»

Article 23 establishes that «all the bishops must constitute for their own diocese a diocesan tribunal.»

At present, there are 800 diocesan or interdiocesan tribunals of the Latin Church, which address almost exclusively cases of marriage annulment.

The instruction is the result of extensive work, initiated in 1996, at the explicit request of John Paul II.

For now, the Vatican Publishing House plans to publish the text in Latin-English and Latin-Italian.

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