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On Light and Lawyers: A Response to Dr. Edward Peters

My article – regarding the dilemma created for Catholic lawyers related to whether or not the local ordinary’s permission is required before seeking a civil divorce – has received a reply from the internet’s pre-eminent canon lawyer, Edward Peters. Since I am not a canon lawyer, I welcome any correction from a competent authority (and blogmeister Dr. Peters certainly qualifies). Instead, I was treated to an assortment of rhetorical rope-a-dope misdirections. As a lawyer, I recognize the application of the tactical maxim – if you don’t have the law or the facts on your side, confuse the issue.

Dr. Peters levels that I am a petty complainer who maligns saintly men and the Church herself and that I would be better served doing some basic internet research before inserting my virtual foot into my virtual mouth.

Dr. Peters takes considerable umbrage at my arguments – so “painfully and obviously ignorant” as to compel him to “sit down and make this reply” – based on two misconceptions, both centered on the straw man argument of confusing the part and the whole. First, he takes my solitary use of “the Church” to mean the entire Church, globally and throughout time. But my intent, and an honest reading of my first article makes this clear, is to take “the Church” – along with “the churchmen” and “pastors and bishops” – as the group most actively touching our lives: the representative majority of Church leadership over the past 50 years. In fact, the great care the Universal Church throughout the ages has taken in guiding and forming those within the legal profession puts into stark relief the negligence of Church leadership in the modern age. Can anyone argue that “the Church,” meaning the present leadership, has utterly failed to promulgate Humanae Vitae to the faithful? Or protect young men from predators within its ranks?

Second, Dr. Peters widens my criticism of his use of Fr. Felix Cappello, S.J. to an “insulting” attack on Fr. Cappello’s person and scholarship as a whole. I’ve done nothing of the kind. I suspect that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” position promoted is more Dr. Peters’s reading of Fr. Cappello than Fr. Cappello himself. But even if Dr. Peters has accurately reflected Fr. Cappello’s position, still I challenge it – and I have sinned no more than if I point out that St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas were wrong in denying the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Now let’s talk about the meat of my argument – that the Church (as clearly defined above) needs to expressly consider the part civil lawyers are asked to play in American divorce proceedings as the Church decides whether ecclesiastical permission is required to divorce. In response, Dr. Peters – a canon law professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit and referendary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Rome – admits that his first inclination is to dismiss my concrete reality as a Catholic lawyer trying to balance the duties of faith and profession with “something akin to ‘Okay. So, deal with it.’” He then challenges me to do some “googling,”* go read some books, and generally engage in self-study to determine my moral duties as a Catholic lawyer.

In fact, I began that process nearly four years ago. What I learned was that there was no guidebook for American Catholic lawyers currently available, and only an extremely rare volume from 1963 was available secondhand. So I took two years to write the book for Catholic lawyers for myself that didn’t exist. (N.B.: This was done with the full and gracious support and approval of my local bishop, lest I be accused of being a bellyacher who indicts the Church top to bottom.) What I discovered was not a conspiracy of silence, but a rich body of teaching that has been ignored, Humanae Vitae-style.

Let’s set aside googling for a moment and take a look at that rare 1963 guidebook, titled the Catholic Lawyers Guide. It is the work of the Catholic Lawyers Society in Dr. Peters’s own Archdiocese of Detroit and bears the imprimatur of Archbishop John F. Dearden (hardly a theological “right-winger”) from May 21, 1963. The guide is replete with references to the very best theologians and thinkers of the day, including the illustrious Fr. Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., author of the moral theology guidebook Morals in Politics and Professions, dean of the School of Sacred Theology at Catholic University, charter member and first president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and peritus for the Second Vatican Council. What does that book say about the topic at hand on pages 105-106?

Some dioceses have had, or do have, an excommunication attached to anyone who seeks civil divorce or civil separation without permission from the Church. But even if such a penalty is not attached, the Catholic who goes ahead without such a permission, except in extreme cases, puts himself in a most difficult position. He is not fulfilling his duties and he has set himself up as his own judge in a matter in which he is forbidden to judge.

Dr. Peters offers a quote from 1956 from Dominic Prümmer, O.P. supporting the proposition that both the civil lawyer and the uncatechized layman deserve blissful ignorance of the requirement to obtain the ordinary’s permission to divorce: “In practice a confessor should not cause disquiet to any Catholic advocate who cannot refuse to undertake such cases without very serious inconvenience, provided that there is no scandal and nothing more is intended than the civil effects of the divorce” (emphasis from Dr. Peters). The more recent 1963 Catholic Lawyers Guide, on page 106, states (emphasis mine):

A lawyer who takes the case of a Catholic desiring a civil separation or a civil divorce from a valid marriage, when the Catholic does not have ecclesiastical permission for such action is putting himself in a state of sin. It would seem that any good Catholic lawyer would be happy to let the Church make such a difficult decision and not assume to himself something which he is definitely forbidden in conscience to do.

This is not exactly “Okay. So, deal with it.” The Catholic Lawyers Guide clearly contemplates lawyers’ reliance on ecclesiastical input and speaks to the “public good” dimension of permission to divorce, which Dr. Peters avoids.

The Catholic Lawyers Guide also warns of the moral hazard of civil lawyers assisting in a non-Catholic divorce:

In dealing with a non-Catholic, the Catholic lawyer should proceed cautiously. He must bear in mind that the morality of a civil divorce action always involves the basic question of whether or not the action taken by the plaintiff in a given instance involves sin. If it does, the lawyer must remember that he is not to participate in the sin of another; neither may he give scandal.

While representing the plaintiff in a forbidden divorce action may not in a given case be a formal cooperation, it is almost certainly proximate cooperation. This demands a very serious reason indeed for the plaintiff is doing something seriously sinful. If scandal cannot be avoided, no reason is serious enough to allow the lawyer to act.

In the chapter on the duties of a Catholic lawyer in his book Morals in Politics and Professions, pages 110-111, the aforementioned Fr. Connell states:

May a Catholic lawyer undertake a divorce case? Generally speaking, the answer must be in the negative[.] … Moreover, the Catholic lawyer should know that the Third Council of Baltimore forbids Catholics in the United States to approach the civil court for the purpose of obtaining a separation a thoro et mensa (from bed and board), without first consulting the ecclesial authorities. It would be the proper thing for a Catholic lawyer to bring this legislation to the notice of a Catholic seeking his services for the introduction of a suit for a civil separation.

Given that Fr. Connell makes it incumbent upon a Catholic lawyer to inform the Catholic client of canon law requirements, how exactly are Catholic civil lawyers supposed to know about that canon law requirement in the first place? As googling was not an option in 1963, I will offer that there was an expectation that “the Church” was taking care to inform civil lawyers. We may also surmise that the provision of this information was not viewed as an instance of Prümmer’s “disquieting” the Catholic advocate.

Sticking with the “public good” aspect of divorce, let’s turn it up a notch and see what the 1963 Detroit guide states about judges participating in divorce proceedings As Dr. Peters points out Pope John Paul II’s address to the Rota, so I point to the guide’s quote on page 110, referencing Pope Pius XII’s November 7, 1949 address to the convention of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, wherein the Holy Father stated:

In particular a Catholic judge cannot pronounce, except for reasons of great weight, a sentence of civil divorce (in countries where that is recognized by law) in a case of a marriage which is valid before God and the Church. He must not forget that in practice such a judgment has not only bearing on the civil effects, but in reality rather leads to the false belief that the actual bond is dissolved and that the new one is consequently valid and binding.

Finally, per Dr. Peters’s advice, I did some googling at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s website. A search of “lawyer” and “attorney” bears precious few returns: annulment information, press releases about abuse cases, and links to Dr. Peters himself addressing the stripping of the name “Catholic” from a popular apostolate. Where are the resources for Catholic lawyers? Where is a digitized version of the Catholic Lawyers Guide? Is it no longer a valuable resource? Was Archbishop Dearden wrong to grant the Catholic Lawyers Guide an imprimatur? Did Father Connell, a moral theologian of some renown, have it all wrong from the get-go, or has moral theology “evolved” on the issue?

As a mere lay American lawyer, not versed in canon law, I have tried to educate myself using trustworthy sources bearing the imprimatur – including a major work coming out of Dr. Peters’s own diocese – and not just Catholic internet chat rooms and message boards of dubious authority. As a practical matter, I can tell you that most American Catholic lawyers don’t even have these issues on their radar. And as for them having enough free time among the demands of work and family to go web-surfing to hunt for potential moral issues that haven’t been presented to them – good luck with that. To demand such is to set these men and women up for moral failure.

I read and respect Dr. Peters’s blog, but his attitude here is lamentable, and his prescription for the civil legal profession is unfair. He challenges Catholic lawyers and judges to browse the internet to get answers to questions they might not even know exist, and then he castigates the conclusions of these dilettantes when he doesn’t like them.

My concerns for the effect of my professional practice on my soul are born of care and study. Canon law and canon lawyers, Dr. Peters included, owe every lawyer and judge direction on the issues of separation and divorce. Rather than hide behind straw-man arguments and descend into name-calling, why not provide some needed moral assistance?

St. Thomas More, pray for us!

* As an example of the post-Conciliar Church’s having “dealt many, many times with the duties of Catholic lawyers toward their clients and the civil legal system,” Dr. Peters offers only Pope John Paul II’s 2002 address to the Roman Rota. This is a limited document; although it does correctly restate a standard concerning lawyers’ cooperation with divorce, it is silent as to the permission question and its ramifications.

74 thoughts on “On Light and Lawyers: A Response to Dr. Edward Peters”

  1. There seems to be a good amount of bad will from both of you. Perhaps the two of you, rather than exchanging nasty, public barbs with each other, could make contact privately and avoid causing scandal. The atmosphere in the Church is acrimonious enough without the orthodox constantly snapping at one another.

    • Some issues want a public venting and, in my estimation, this is one. Once the issue is presented then the parties can hone their respective positions. No harm in this at all. Barbs and all.

      Thank you, Mr. Rossi, for raising the issues. I was involved in the legal profession for twenty-five years as an adjudicator.

    • Oh c’mooooon, man. Modern orthodox Catholics are so neutered.

      I’d rather see these two put on leather gloves and pummel it out and then go have a beer together. I see no ill will. Just two thobbing brains trying to arm-brain wrestle. No different from me revving my truck’s exhaust and eating fried chicken next to Cooter and his truck rig.

      • You are more kind than I am. I see an orthodox guy looking for truth and wanting to be faithful at all costs. I, also, see the usual “conservative” asserting all is well as long as you subscribe to his view of things.

    • The Church is not divided enough, actually. Until we start standing with the truth, unadulterated, and go along with a false unity will we have the oppression we have this very day.

  2. As a catholic divorce lawyer and mediator, for the last two years I have been pondering this exact question and searching the internet for information. This article is informative and important and meaningful. I too read and respect Ed Peters blog. And that has not changed. On this issue, I am happy to see the exchange and very happy to see this response. Thank you very much.

    • Hi Brenda, Please check out my May 20 detailed response to Ed Peters. In his 3-page article in a scholarly journal FCSQ, he emphasizes the writings of Cappello.

      Then, look at what I quote from Cappello.

      Peters discusses a Latin work and translates section 831 (pg. 828-29) of Cappello. Cappello is discussing whether, or not, it is ever legitimate for a Catholic to petition in the civil forum. Cappello concludes that in certain circumstances, the Church tolerates a party approaching the civil forum. Cappello is not talking about whether, or not, a party is free to make the decision with no approval from a bishop. In 1950, a revised edition of the same work was published with changes in section 830, which covers competent authority for separation cases. See both editions …

  3. Dr. Peters should know the weight of his words and not be so offensive and condescending to well-intentioned Catholic brothers. It’s shameful. It’s not the first time he’s treated people like this and probably won’t be the last time, unfortunately. Such public bashing deserves public defense and restitution.

    • Would that you afforded commenting at your blog so that Mr Rossi (and others) could have the same opportunity for dialogue with you as you are afforded here.

    • It was total cheap shot to toss the rock at this Rossi fellow pertaining to the use of the word “Church”.

      I think you will find, by the help of google, that such fellows as Pope Benedict XVI himself as well as many others have used the word similarly to the way the Rossi fellow used it. Of course, possibly they were not all canon lawyers…

  4. “My brothers and sisters in the law deserve to have firm guidance on how their law practices may be affecting their souls.” (Quote from your article on A Lawyer’s Dilemma).

    Of course you deserve it, as do those clients you serve. Of course, your souls are at risk. Many share your concerns. What reasonable person could deny you that; deny us all?

    But then, it also seems reasonable for the Pope to provide simple, needed clarity by answering the five Dubia.

    Requests for clarity these days seem to be cause for offense and anger.

  5. In England we have the issue of the annulment process demanding civil divorce before the process can start – but under art 95 of the 1949 marriage act this is a criminal offence whether the bond is valid or not – as well as the grave moral ramifications for defence of the bond how can canon lawyers justify this?

    • That is how I got my annulment in UK on the advice of a priest who was an expert on Canon Law and participated in Marriage Tribunals [ not MINE – I hasten to add! ] So before all the smart Alec’s on here weigh in and tell me what a sinner I am and how I’m NOT really annulled at all…………. save your breath! I acted in good faith; got a civil divorce; applied for an annulment; and Bingo! As for the rubbish about a civil divorce ruining any chance of reconciliation ? Are you KIDDING? I am a lifelong practicing Catholic and had there been ANY chance of ‘reconciliation” and EVERY chance of my children’s souls being in danger I would not have thought of divorce and annulment in a million years. To advise people like me otherwise shows an unchristian lack of Charity.

  6. Mr. Rossi, when you quote the 1963 Catholic Lawyers’ Guide regarding lawyers taking separation and divorce cases and Pius XII in regard to Catholic judges pronouncing sentences of divorce, in both cases you say that they are referring to valid marriages.

    The word “valid” is key. Ed Peters has done a service to those who want their marriages declared invalid, which almost everyone can do since the ’70s. Then we no longer are talking about valid marriages, and your sources above are not relevant to our time. Peters’ 1997 book 100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments recommends grounds concerning consent and capacity if there are not obvious grounds like lack of form.

    He doesn’t define consent and/or capacity, but others do like Fr. Lawrence G. Wrenn who has written books on how to judge invalidity published by the Canon Law Society of America.

    Briefly, if consent is defective that means that you didn’t quite know what you were consenting to (as if anyone does), and capacity means that if, by some chance, you consented as the “church” defines consent, you lacked the capacity to do what you consented to. Usually because of some psychological deficiency (which we all have by someone’s definition).

    So I argue that the annulment scandal in the Catholic Church has been the real destroyer of Catholic families. A sentence from your local tribunal makes Catholics feel that their dating and remarrying is okay. It’s all about “feeling,” not about making sense. And never mind that such parents have to put their children into therapy and on drugs in order to cope. A problem that Peters doesn’t handle.

    Yes, moral theology has evolved, back to the monkey stage of ridiculousness.

    • Basically, no one can consent and no one has correct capacity. That message was received 50 years ago or so and is now considered a “conservative” interpretation by the “experts”. Got it.

    • Your assessment seems to be a bit of an over generalization. If one’s pastor is doing their job, they will screen out cases in which lack of capacity or consent is but a cynical misdirection to obtain an annulment where proper cause is truly lacking. I give most priests more credit than that. They are trained to ask proper questions and to probe into one’s state of mind at the time of the marriage. I assume most act in good faith. And, regrettably, given the depravity of our culture and breakdowns within families and hence one’s views of marriage when growing up, it is not surprising that many in fact do lack proper capacity and discretion at the time they enter into marriage.

      • Chris,

        You trust priests and you assume most act in good faith. Mr. Rossi began his argument by pointing out how untrustworthy they have been in defending the Church’s teaching on birth control and protecting children from the molesters among them.

        And then you end up by saying that many people do lack discretion and capacity because of our decadent society.

        Whose side are you on? The side that is expedient, that finds a way to give the people what they want?

        St. Paul found the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans corrupt. But he was strict nevertheless. You find a society in which it was easy to be Catholic.

        • Marie, yes as you say I do make an assumption since I regard it as proper to assume those with sworn duties to perform will do so conscientiously until such time as they prove otherwise. I was speaking in the context of a parish priest and/or pastor counseling someone on a possible annulment case. I made no observations outside of that context.

          Regrettably in a broken culture, lack of due discretion in the the formation of consent or capacity, is not uncommon. You mention the diabolical scandal of gay-sex abuse committed by a number of priests. Would you not expect that among those scarred by such an experience, many will have latent issues that could well impair their ability to enter into a valid marriage, at least until such issues are recognized and dealt with? Such abuse hardly constitutes the only impediment but is one possible among many.

          It’s not a matter of expedience, but of seeing things as they are. In other words, seeing reality and dealing with it accordingly.

          • Chris,

            Cultures have always been broken. Spouses are still expected to keep their vows and make a home for their children. Divorce is evil and sinful which is the subject of this discussion.
            I’ve never seen having been molested by a priest on a list of impediments to marriage. People want every difficulty to be grounds for nullity.
            But divorce in the first place is out of the question. That’s what we’re arguing here.

          • “[E]very difficulty to be grounds”? No, only those specified in the Code of Canon law. And you’ve missed, or misunderstood the point. Being molested whether by a priest or anyone is not of itself grounds for nullity. If the experience, in a given case, renders one unable to form the due discretion needed to validly enter into a marriage, arguable grounds would exist.

          • I’ve checked the Code of Canon Law Annotated and I think that incapacity rather than lack of discretion would be used, Canon 1095.3.

            Canon 1095 is, from what I have read, the most often used canon to declare marriages null in the U.S. I have read that it wasn’t even in the 1917 Code.

            So if a person was molested by a priest and that experience caused a serious psychological disturbance to the point that the person found it impossible to fulfill the duties and obligations of marriage, the marriage would probably be declared null.

            But the mental illness would have to be proven by the appropriate authorities.

            And what do I know? Only what I have read of these cases for twenty-some years.

            What I find troubling however, Chris, is that marriages are declared null for reasons like this, but then the person is sent to counseling and pronounced cured so he or she can go on to marry again.

            Why not use counseling therapy to fix the first marriage?

          • Certainly marriage counseling including Retrouvaille should be encouraged. And better yet, a greater emphasis on marriage and family life as part of catechetical formation, and improved pre-marriage counseling and prep are essential.

            As for the notion that one can get some counseling after an annulment and be free to marry, with time and therapy one may indeed improve in their capacity to trust, forgive, give freely on themselves etc.

            And it of course takes two parties to make a marriage. One can enter into a marriage in good faith, but if their partner lacks proper consent or the capacity to fulfill the obligations of marriage, again, the marriage is likely a nullity, notwithstanding the good faith and even good mental and emotional health of one of the two parties.

          • Marie,

            The argument presented does not apply because we are talking about the point of separation/divorce, at which time every marriage is presumed valid, and as such the info. Rossi cites is still accurate. One would not know their marriage is not valid until a declaration of invalidity is issued, but it is then a mute point because the divorce will have occurred at whatever time prior.

          • David, I see your point. The information that Mr. Rossi provided is still accurate. And I’m grateful that a Catholic attorney is making an issue of this huge omission that might cause some couples to avoid divorce.

          • Thank you Chris! Finally , someone who has actually mentioned the difficulty and impossibility of “fixing” a mixed marriage when the non-Catholic partner dismisses – if not detests – the Catholic Faith and is a real and present danger to the children’s souls. All I’ve got from others here is the blanket statement that ALL divorce is evil and sinful. That’s as useful as a smack in the eye with a wet lettuce for those making agonizing decisions.

          • What part of “If a marriage is severely, seriously and irrevocably damaged you can’t FIX it” don’t you understand, Marie?

          • Babs, you are not going to give up until I agree that your case is justified. But I am no one.

            And I do not agree that there is a marriage that can’t be fixed. There are people who will not forgive and trust in God.

            To ask Him to fix your marriage or someone else’s and then refuse to believe that He will, is what I don’t understand.

            And I’m sure you are not happy with this response, but, please remember, I am no one, but I do wish Attorney Rossi success in getting Canon 1153 reinstated in the whole world.

          • Divorce is NOT always sinful and evil and you are not only wrong but lacking in integrity and Charity to make that pronouncement..
            As a lifelong practicing Catholic who divorced civilly in order to gain an annulment in UK on the advice of a strict but fair priest who served on one of the UK the Marriage Tribunals – [not my annulment I hasten to add]. I can tell you that :-
            [1] Mine was a mixed marriage. YOU presume both partners are Catholic
            [2] There was zero chance of reconciling given the permanence and serious nature of the problem which I found out was known to his family but withheld from me till after the marriage.
            [3] The choice was my soul and the souls of my 2 children so YOUR petty arguments and statements of “evil and sin” fade to nothing! Our souls came first, middle and last!
            [4] Please limit your advice to the suffering – you are NOT the right person to counsel anyone. This situation is horrific but sadly it happens. I’m just glad I never went to you “advisors” or I and my beloved children would never have been as well-balanced and happy as we are, thanks be to God.

        • The Procurator is one who assists in the preparation and submission of the petition. In all annulment cases there is also a Defender of the Bond, who adduces grounds in support of validity. The judge assesses evidence and arguments presented by both.

          It makes sense to allow a petition to be prepared and presented to a tribunal which will then judge the case. They have the training to do so. If the diocese has such a policy I couldn’t say it’s unreasonable.

          • Hi Chris. I know that a petition for decree of invalidity of a marriage can be signed by either the petitioning spouse or the procurator. No party is required to have a procurator.

            In my paper given in Rome, I describe the shock of a petitioner who went to his parish for help with his marraige. He was instructed to complete the questionnaire for an annulment petition and give the deacon at the parish his permission to file for an annulment. The husband was never informed that the diocese personnel were accusing him of being the cause of his own marriage being invalid based on “grave psychic anomaly” due to his difficult upbringing. This man is very competent and absolutely knew what he was choosing when he entered marriage and was capable of choosing it.

            See page 14, Petitioner Not Informed During Procedure, in “The Current Marriage Crisis in the Light of the Original Creation and the Code of Canon Law.” 26 pages (full paper with footnotes)

          • I’m a bit confused. He wanted “help for his marriage” yet would have signed and annulment petition and fully answered the questionnaire? What you’ve described, on the face of it, appears to be quite bizarre. No one can or should be forced to petition for an annulment if they don’t want one. What exactly did he think he was doing? If he was coerced he should have filed an appeal, which he would have been informed he had every right to do. Did he? Again, if he’s convinced he was competent, knew what he was doing, and was capable of freely choosing it, whatever was he doing signing an annulment petition in the first place AND filling out the questionnaire; itself a very lengthy process. Did he ever think to tell his priest/deacon/procurator to drop the whole thing? If not why not? How freely capable and competent could he possibly be if he didn’t read and understand and agree with both the petition and everything in the questionnaire?

          • in his diocese, the petitioner does not fill in a petition, but only answer a questionnaire about himself and the breakup of the marriage. The procurator writes and signs the petition. The party never reads the petition, and never knows what it says. I agree it is bizarre.

          • Did he want the annulment or not? That’s the heart of the matter. In your earlier post you wrote: “This man is very competent and absolutely knew what he was choosing when he entered marriage and was capable of choosing it.”- If he believed his marriage was valid, why was he filing a petition for an annulment? Did he know what he was doing or not?

          • Mary’s Advocates position is that truth is at the heart of the matter. This petitioner told me several years after a decree of invalidity was issued by his diocese that he, at the time, took the advise of the deacon that conducted his marriage prep. The deacon told him that the annulment process would bring healing. The deacon never told him what the grounds would be. The man, at the time, trusted the deacon, and followed his lead. Years later, after learning more about grounds for annulment and Church teaching on separation and divorce and after seeing two different version of the definitive sentence, he feels the whole process was not based on truth.

          • Your explanation fails to support the notion that he was “very competent” and “absolutely knew what he was choosing” and “was capable of choosing it” at the time of his marriage. It’s of course possible that over time his capacity to choose or his competence declined.

            You seem to be proposing that one who was easily co-opted into an annulment that he didn’t want and didn’t understand, was nevertheless fully competent and capable and “absolutely knew what he was doing” at the time of his marriage.

            If one can be easily misled on the matter of an annulment, and in effect, unable to make a free choice to pursue it, it stands to reason that likewise he could have well be so indisposed regarding earlier decisions of great import.

          • There is a difference between A) answering a questionnaire about a courtship and marriage, and B) accusing oneself of being so mentally incapacitated at the time of marriage that one does not understand the essential elements of marriage: permanence, open to children, sexual fidelity, orientation toward the good of the spouses. If a deacon from the parish tells a person that the healing he needs will come from the “process’, would you find surprising that the listener followed the deacon’s instructions?

          • Did he understand and know that he was seeking an annulment or not? Did he seek it of his own free will or not? Does he now claim that he had no knowledge of what an annulment was? Does he claim that he was duped into seeking an annulment that he had no intention to pursue? I’ve asked about this before and haven’t seen a clear answer from you.

          • Those are excellent questions to raise on appeal. I imagine he knew he was petitioning for a decree of invalidity of his marriage. Where the truth might have been violated is when his procurator may have written a portion of the petition that was never shown to the party.

            The procurator may have provided to the judge the written facts and proofs, in A GENERAL WAY, upon which the the procurator is relying to demonstrate nullity. The man’s questionnaire would not have given that “general way” information that is required.

            For example, the procurator could have written to the judge,”man was incapable of consent because of his difficult upbringing that resulted in a grave psychic anomaly making it impossible for him to exercise adequate discretion about the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted. The man’s mother did xxxx, the man’s father did xxxx.”

            In his diocese, the tribunal judged marriages were invalid for 98.7% of the 1182 cases from 2011 to 2014. Once any petition whatsoever is submitted, the party may have virtually no chance of stopping an annulment from being granted (well a 1.3% chance).

            The law allows for the procurator to sign the libellus (a.k.a petition), so the law allows the procurator to submit a libellus to which the petitioner would have strongly objected. The law does not require a procurator to show the party the libellus (maybe it should). The problem for a party is that, once the party signs the diocese pre-printed form, the party has mandated a procurator. The party would have no way of knowing that the procurator wrote the GENERAL WAY statements that the petitioner would have argued were false. The party would not know that any act submitted by a mandated procurator, on behalf of the party, cannot be revoked.

            Dignitas Connubii shows “procurators who commit an offense against the responsibility entrusted to them are to be punished in accordance with the law. … Whoever has harmed another by any act illegitimately placed, either maliciously or through negligence, is bound by the obligation to repair the harm” (Art. 111).

          • My point isn’t so much to aid him in raising questions on appeal. Indeed if he knowingly petitioned for an annulment and it was granted, and if he knowingly signed the diocesan form which you cited, he has no grounds and I see no injustice that was done to him. He knowingly sought an annulment albeit in retrospect, he now has second thoughts. There may be cases of abuse. I don’t think this is one of them.

          • A sentence is irremediably null if it “the trial was carried out without the judicial petition mentioned in art. 114” (D.C. Art. 270.4), or “without the judicial petition mentioned in can. 1501” (c. 1620.4).

            If the petitioner’s “petition” was missing the facts and proofs in a GENERAL WAY upon which he was relying to demonstrate nullity, the petition must be rejected. Answers to a questionnaire do not provide precise GENERAL WAY information.

            If a procurator signed a petition, libellus, that contained false statements upon which the procurator relied to demonstrate nullity of the marriage, the procurator committed an offense against the responsibility entrusted to him.

          • The claims in your second paragraph don’t necessarily follow from the citations in your first. You don’t mention any omission of “facts and proofs” which would have been based on answers to the questionnaire and perhaps other information adduced from an interview with the petitioner or from other sources such as witnesses. And are you accusing the deacon/procurator of submitting a fraudulent petition? Your use of the word “if” at the start of your third paragraph suggests equivocation. Did you even talk personally with the procurator, or for that matter the petitioner? Was the petitioner content to file the petition and leave the details to the procurator but now in retrospect wishes he hadn’t filed at all? Or that he had personally prepared the petition instead?

            What you’re describing seems to be a variation of “buyers remorse”. He got what he was seeking, now he regrets it. That is unless you can show that he didn’t want an annulment or information presented in support of the petition was not based on information provided by the petitioner. Again, for the umpteenth time, did the petitioner know he was filing for an annulment or not? Did he know what was expected of him at the time he did? Did he read any of the forms before he signed them? Did he know that he had a right to personally prepare the petition is he so chose? Did he knowingly decline to do so, and allow per the document which you acknowledge he signed, defer to the procurator in the preparation and presentation of his petition? Did he fully and accurately fill out the questionnaire? Did he provide a list of witnesses? Do you have any idea whether they responded or what they had to say? Do you know if the respondent filed a response and what she may have offered? I”m guessing at this point, that you have no idea.

            If this case represents in your mind the epitome of annulment abuse, it’s extremely weak. I can’t believe you couldn’t find a better example.

          • Hi Chris, What do you mean by “there is also a Defender of the Bond, who adduces grounds in support of validity”? When I read the word “ground” related to annulments, I assume the writer means the grounds for invalidity of marriage from canon 1083-1107.

            My concern about a diocese instructing priests, deacons, parish personnel (who are procurators) to NEVER discourage a party from petition for invalidity, is that the law requires the party’s petition to show the ground for invalidity. I’ve talked to petitioners in my area who were instructed by diocesan personnel to petition for a decree of invalidity of their marriage, and the petitioners told me they had NO IDEA upon what ground or basis the tribunal decided their marriage was invalid. These petitioners had been unjustly abandoned by their spouses and forced through a no-fault divorce.

          • Have you read the guidelines for the diocese of Cleveland which you linked to? If so you will come across the term “Defender of the Bond” and its definition. I’m aware of your concerns as you’ve aptly stated them already. There is nothing I’ve seen that would require a priest to violate his conscience if he is unable to assist a petitioner. The policy appears to state that he is not to judge the case himself and decide on his own that grounds are lacking. The responding party will receive notice of the petition and can respond. If dissatisfied with the result they can appeal, including to the Vatican. Joseph Kennedy III was granted an annulment, which was later reversed by the Vatican after his wife filed an appeal.

          • Hi again Chris, I know the job description of the DOB. What threw me for a loop is that you wrote, “there is also a Defender of the Bond, who adduces grounds in support of validity.” Grounds, in “canon-law-speak” are canons 1083-1107. Would I be correct to understand that by word “grounds” you mean facts and proofs?

            About priests: If a priest is expected to be the procurator for parishioners in his parish, and he believes there is no ground for invalidity of a marraige, the priest would be disobeying the published tribunal procedures in Cleveland which instruct all procurators NOT to discourage anyone from petitioning for a decree of invalidity. “The procurator must never discourage someone from presenting a petition to the court, even if the procurator may feel that the person does not have a strong case” (page 4, found in link below:

            . . . or . . .

            About the policy: The Cleveland 2016 policy says “The procurator will need to exercise considerable guidance in helping the petitioner to produce a statement which is relevant to canonical reasons for matrimonial invalidity. This statement should not cite specific grounds; it is the tribunal’s role to translate the facts of the marriage into juridically relevant categories” (page 7)

            This is the opposite of what was taught at the Study Day on Dignitas Connubii at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. “The judge may no supersede them [the parties] in determining the reason on which the decision itself should be based; even if he were convinced he could better meet their interest in obtaining a declaration of nullity” (page 97)

          • I read nothing in the guidelines which mandate that a parish priest act as a procurator if he has reservations. Not assisting is not the same as discouraging which implies an attempt to dissuade one from pursuing a petition. A petitioner is free to pursue a petition on his/her own, or enlist the assistance of another to act on their behalf.

            As for the role of the Defender of the Bond, it is clearly spelled out in the guidelines. His role is to present whatever case there may be in favor of validity.

    • Canon law requires that all marriages must be presumed valid until prove otherwise (c. 1060) . Marriage is a public good and outcomes in separations are supposed to be in accord with divine law (c. 1692). In tribunal sentences deciding questions of invalidity of a marriage, the judge is required to instruct the parties of their civil and moral obligations toward each other and their children (Mitis Iudex c. 1691 §1, CIC c. 1689). So, the Church should control in both valid and invalid marriages. One party is not free to unilaterally force divorce on the rest of the family without Church intervention. This is the canon law that is virtually ignored in the U.S. – – – but not for long 🙂

  7. The 1st canon lawyer argument I ever read was an online, apparently “orthodox” lawyer, who made a case for why St. Phenomena is not a saint.

    Chirp. Chirp.

    Saint Philomena, pray for lawyers.

    I will never care what a canon lawyer has to say until a spiritual director or authority binds me under obedience.
    Much like Windows 95, I am quite content to stick with the Baltimore Catechism and Magisterium approved Church Doctrine for my family in these goofy times. We must keep a cool head and cling to Mary and the Eucharist as our pillars.

    I test things by their spirit. Anything that is hyper-reactive, emotional etc. I just cut it out. Calm, sober levity is the way forward, even in the trenches (I’m DoD). I have attended Oxford and Harvard, and I find it all vanity. St Cousin, St. Charbel, Padre Pio, St. Joseph Cupertino…. they have it right. Live simply, moderately, feast to fast and fast to feast, love, love, and love some more. Everything else…meh. God bless all my lawyerfriends and family lawyers but…, life is so much easier than the legal purgatory they create.

    I was made to know God, love Him, serve Him, and be with Him for eternity. That’s all I really care about these days. When I let myself get caught up, weighing this trad priest against this Novus ordo priest, against this theologian against this canon lawyer, I get so dark and heavy. Then I just stare at Divine Mercy, say an Ave, and retreat back to the Rock of Peace in the storm. If it’s doctrine or Church-approved (REALLY approved), I say “amen”. If someone can find me the encyclical or cite the CC#, I’m good to go. If not, I have diapers to change, wine to make, PT, guns to clean, a wife to kiss, kids to hug, a Harley carb to clean, and a yard to mow.

    I’m a top bureaucrat. I can make stats reflect my argument no matter which way I turn. I see this in the trad community, too. I figure that the Holy Spirit’s teaching are a little more organized, digestible and relevant than making me do a STD thesis as to whether or not I can validly make every scratch or hand motion I make in life. And so, I have retreated to old school Catholicism in complete union with Rome and our Holy Father (and geesh, some of the disrespect for God’s pope i see in comments is outlandish. He makes my blood boil sometimes, and I have no idea if he is up or down, but I love him as a child should love their papa no matter what). I will fight the traditional fight, an outcast even among the oh so warm and socially accepting trad community (cough cough hack), waiting to throw my little ship’s rope around the pillars of Mary and the Eucharist when Christ shows his power in the coming Marian Age.

    BTW, this article’s author is right and the canon lawyer is being a poopy head. My time and job have taught me to seek the motivation. The canon dude has an agenda or the previous article was an incrimination of past participation/culpability. Easy.


    • That was an enjoyable read. Well said. Amen to “calm, sober levity”, and your tip of the hat to the Saints and their simple, trusting faith.

      Takeaway 1: don’t get lost in the Canon lawyer weeds. They do not rule the Church for a reason.

      Takeaway 2: Mr. Rossi is right. The canon lawyer is a poopy head.

      Takeaway 3: Back to the tasks at hand.

    • Enjoyable and entertaining, and certainly it applies to you as you say, but less to others who are in the throes of the topic at hand, or scandalized by heresies encouraged by the Pope, or that Catholic convert debating the entire rest of his/her family who are rabid Protestants and the Church said converts defend appears to reason to be a carnival of perversion and heresy {against itself…}

      So, again, thank you for the read. It was worth reading, with some points to remember.

      Oh, and at this point, I have it Rossi 1, Peters 0, too.

      Waiting for the rematch.

    • I agree with everything you say 100% except your acceptance of Pope Francis who I truly believe is leading souls to Hell. Canon Lawyers and “experts ” in divorce are some of the VERY few people I detest – with their smug generalizations and patronizing of suffering souls who do NOT wish to be labelled as failures when marriage s hit the skids. I notice most of them are happily married – what do THEY know about reality?

  8. Just read Ed Peters’ response to Mr. Rossi. He believes Canon law permits the faithful to divorce each other without first attaining a declaration of nullity.

    That makes zero sense to me. That qualifies as dangerous, deadly advice to this married man. There seems to be a lot of that these days. I find myself tuning out most of the “experts'” advice.

    • Hi Aqua. You appear to be mixing up a decree of “nullity of a marriage” and a decree of “separation of spouses.” Neither Rossi or Peters are discussing investigations of validity of marriage. The debate that Rossi pick up was started by me. With the non-profit organization, Mary’s Advocates, I work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce. I’ve been publicizing the canon law and Catechism teaching for over 10 years. Peters’ did not agree with all the authors I compiled who say that a Catholic cannot file for a civil divorce without first having the bishop’s permission to separate.
      See here

      • Admittedly, I’m no expert.

        I am, however a married man, and a longtime expert in that field. I am responsible before God for my wife and the many children in our family. You might call it a “separation of spouses decree”. I call it divorce. And what that means to me is the loss of the wife God gave me to cherish, protect, support; flesh of my flesh; my childrens’ loss of their mother. That means a fundamental act of violence against the sacramental union with my dear wife.

        The jargon is interesting. In my state of life, however, all I care about is whether a Catholic divorce attorney facilitated my wife’s divorce from me and my children, without first going through the long arduous process of determining whether we were even married in the first place. And I would very much not appreciate a Catholic divorce attorney who did such a thing; or a Bishop who determined it was none of his business.

        So my opinion remains unchanged: Catholic divorce without a declaration of nullify is an act of spiritual violence. And it facilitates grave sin when that leads to remarriage or extracurricular sexual relations.

        • Hi Aqua. Now you are talking. In my blog about the controversy between Peters and Rossi, titled, “Who Decides What Happens when Spouse Reneges?,” I write the following:

          This is not some abstract esoteric debate that is irrelevant for the average citizen. This controversy centers on whether, or not, children are forcibly deprived of everyday access to a decent parent who promised, before those children were conceived, to be faithful to his spouse. The debate’s resolution will affect whether, or not, residents of a state, through the actions of their civil courts, can gang up on a decent husband to drain his bank account and make him homeless, at the request of his wife who betrayed him and reneged on her marriage promises. With the non-profit organization, Mary’s Advocates, I work to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce and support those who are unjustly abandoned. The Catholic Church’s teaching on divorce and separation of spouses requires that separations initiated by a Catholic, should be in accord with divine law. No-fault divorce has outcomes that are horrific, unjust, and cruel to the faithful spouse and children.

          • Thank you. I loved the article, but even more, what you are doing on behalf of those many lonely spouses who don’t have an advocate to defend them. “Mercy” has passed by both them and the children. Thank you for standing in their corner and giving some measure of hope. It seems that in the darkest times, God prefers to work through quiet and unassuming people and paths, to bring down the powerful oppressors.

          • For any spouse that has no advocate to defend them, Mary’s Advocates welcomes them to visit our webpage to learn how to defend against accusations of nullity of marriage. Sometimes an old case can be thrown out, depending on how badly the right of defense was impeded. People can write me and call me and I’ll help with as much time as God allows. Mary’s Advocates is 501(c)(3) and I’ve been doing this work full time for over two years – being paid only because of donations.

            For any spouse that is lonely, we provide a support network of separated faithful.

        • I agree with your statement “divorce without a declaration of nullify is an act of spiritual violence.” Furthermore, I add “divorce without an ecclesiastic separation of spouses is an act of spiritual violence.”

          Please listen to the 6 minute preview of my interview July 12 with Mike Church at Veritas Radio. We were talking about how separations and divorce would be more just if we followed canon law about separations.

  9. Peters’ reply seems rather defensive to me. I think this is always a danger for American canonists, for this is one of the elephants in the room for us, for- aside from the question of whether it is obligatory for people to seek the ordinary’s permission- it is generally one aspect of the law which has been largely ignored. So canonists can either admit we have played our part or get defensive. The same is seen in regard to the issue of superfluous annulments granted here. Part of Peters’ argument is in fact that tribunals/chanceries might have much more work, while we supposedly don’t want to “disturb” the faithful, but which are arguably weak reasons, which is what Rossi aims at.

  10. Peters’ arrogance has been on display for a very long time. You know that you’ve threatened his intellectual pride when he gets nasty.

  11. Peter’s is a pompous, ‘wanna be an important authority’, ass.

    His thinly veiled disdain for the current papacy and it’s promulgations demonstrates he is exactly who Francis is talking about when he wrote:

    “A temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.”


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