Cardinal Versaldi: 'It is Necessary to Defend the Full Meaning of Marriage'

Judge for Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Speaks on the Defense of the Natural Family

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Today more than ever it is necessary to defend “the full and objective meaning of marriage.” Doing so helps counteract “pseudo-pastoral trends” that contribute neither to “the good of the person, nor of society,” but instead undermine the values found in the “natural family.” It is an especially necessary task for the Church if she wants to halt the daily “disaster” being provoked by the current “relativistic and subjective culture.” In the first place this disaster consists of a decline in birthrate and an increase in divorce. It extends however to include the “anthropological pessimism” that denies “the natural reality of marriage,” because it believes that “normal Christians” are incapable of assuming the obligations of a definitive commitment.

These are the words of Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, President of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See. He is also currently a Judge for the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, having first served many years as one of the Tribunal’s Referendarii and Votanti. One of his most important responsibilities is overseeing the proper administration of justice in all of the Church’s courts. This morning he spoke to the School of Canon Law of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, on the occasion of the academic celebration of their School’s Patron, St. Raymond Penyafort.

The Cardinal was inspired by the seven speeches given by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Auditors of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota between 2005 and 2012. He outlined a sort of “plot logic” found in the Pope’s teaching on the issue of the Capacity to Marry. Not only is the Pope’s “complete and solid doctrinal vision” manifested, said the Cardinal, but so is his concern for “correcting numerous trends” that are either superficial or partial within juridical norms. Often these are dropped from the “context of the other sacred sciences” and bent to justify “pseudo-pastoral exploitation.”

The Church’s pastoral action “cannot disregard the truth.” Rather, “justice, charity and truth” should join together in a “virtuous circle,” keeping in mind that even legal activity “has the salvation of souls as its goal.” In other words, “justice safeguards the truth, and truth pursued with charity drives the commitment for justice.”

In order to prevent nullity declarations it is surely necessary to invest more energy in preparing couples for marriage. Even at that stage there are “certain legal aspects” (examination of the spouses, publications, and other premarital investigations) that help to confirm the “truth about intentions, and the proper understanding of what a bride and groom are asking for with the celebration of their marriage,” despite the fact they are often reduced to mere formal tools.

The Pope—explained Cardinal Versaldi—referring “to a full and proper anthropological vision that underlies the legal truth about marriage,” affirms “that the capacity to assume the marital bond’s essential commitments” should be measured “in relation to the effective will of each party. This will is what makes the ‘capacity to assume’ possible and operative already at the moment of the nuptial pact.” For this reason, “consent produces marriage;” the validity of it’s existence “does not depend on the subsequent behavior of the couple during their married life.”

Versaldi later added that “we need to resist the temptation to transform the simple failings a couple experiences in their married life into defects in consent.”

It is assumed that “the right to marry is both natural and divine,” as well as “essentially inherent to human nature since the time of creation.” It is only possible to deny such a right for a “serious cause,” and therefore as “an anomaly, an exception,” as John Paul II emphasized in Dignitas Connubii. 

The Pope also warned about the danger Ecclesiastical Tribunals face in forming “’local jurisprudence’ standards that become more and more distant from the common interpretation of positive law and even from the Church’s own teaching about marriage.” Consequently, he reiterates the need to make “the law’s application uniform and certain,” avoiding “the arbitrariness of subjective criteria.”

On her part the Church, “Mother and Teacher,” takes care of couples in crisis who are denied a declaration of nullity. She places “natural and supernatural means” at their disposition, suggesting for example, “a return to the practices of an authentic and profound conjugal spirituality” as well as “recourse to psychological help” where necessary. This may be done through family counselors who “have a strong Christian inspiration,” concluded Cardinal Versaldi.

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Giovanni Tridente

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