Why All the Annulments?

North America Has the Most

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The most recent data on marriage annulments show an “enormous increase in the last decades,” especially in North America and Europe, says a Vatican aide.

“Of the 56,236 ordinary hearings for a declaration of nullity, 46,092 received an affirmative sentence,” said Bishop Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Apostolic Signature, the supreme court of the Church.

He made the comment today when presenting the instruction “Dignitas Connubii” (The Dignity of Marriage), with which the Holy See seeks to help diocesan and interdiocesan tribunals in causes of marriage annulment.

Of the cases in 2002 — the latest figures available — 343 annulments were handed out in Africa, 676 in Oceania, 1,562 in Asia, 8,855 in Europe, and 36,656 in America, including 30,968 in North America, Bishop De Paolis said.

The prelate cited three reasons for the large number of cases of annulments.

First is the “widespread secularization that entails mistaken conceptions of marriage in relation to the ideal proposed by the Church,” he said.

Second, there is a “more precise understanding of the psychology of the human person,” which “enables one to see that in certain cases the marriage consensus is not sufficient to bind two persons in the marriage bond,” the bishop said.

Third, it is about a “matter of conscience,” he said. “Many faithful who obtain a divorce and can therefore remarry according to civil law, request a declaration of nullity, as they know that for a Catholic a valid marriage can only be celebrated according to the laws of the Church.”

Referring to the seeming imbalance of annulments in Western countries, Bishop De Paolis said: “In some places there are no appropriate tribunals to take up the cases.”

Cardinal Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, said that there are fewer cases of annulment in Africa and Asia, “as, perhaps, there is greater stability in marriage,” but added that “it might also be because access to tribunals is more difficult, as sometimes they are few or cover very large areas.”

The cardinal pointed out that “not only the rich have access to marriage annulment.”

He explained that with the new instruction, an attempt is made to facilitate the possibility for any Catholic to request the annulment of a marriage if necessary, regardless of their financial possibilities.

Monsignor Antoni Stankiewicz, dean of the Roman Rota, explained that “of the 141 causes that came to the Roman Rota in 2004, 69% enjoyed free support,” namely, the parties involved did not share in the costs.

The authors of “Dignitas Connubii” hope that the processes of marriage annulment take place quickly but with respect to jurisprudence.

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