On the other hand, many tribunals already have advocates to assist people requesting an annulment. “Why would such an office require priestly ordination?” wondered Anthony St. Louis-Sanchez, judge of the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal of Colorado Springs. “It sends the message that the Church is taking this duty seriously. But otherwise, it seems to be reinventing the wheel. Priests do not receive this kind of training in the seminary. …In the end, this office would seem to be the same thing we already have, just repackaged,” St. Louis-Sanchez concluded.
The success of any reforms will depend mostly on the people implementing them. Tribunal Director Hendrickson pointed out that “the marriage nullity process has been set up to fail by many tribunals, some of which cut corners or ignore portions of the process as it is carefully prescribed in canon law, and others, at the other extreme, that focus on the finest minutiae of the procedural law but seem blind to the human beings whose lives are represented on the pages of the case file.” Tribunals should instead learn to balance “careful observation of the procedural norms” and “loving pastoral care of the people,” never forgetting “the inevitable third party in every case implied: the spouse from the first marriage.” These first spouses “are not seeing anything in the current coverage of the Synod that indicates that the Church is concerned for them and their plight. So I am increasingly concerned by every proposal to make the annulment process any more ‘pastoral’ until it is clearly looking out for the spiritual interests of ALL parties involved, not just those who are eager to move on with their lives,” Hendrickson added.
Improved Governmental Policies
Although better marriage preparation and streamlined annulment procedures may help, the Church alone can’t solve the crisis in marriage and family life, because it is a societal problem influenced by external pressures. "With regard to external pressures, increasing job insecurity is a nightmare for many families; migration often creates large imbalances in the family,” Cardinal Erdö pointed out.
The Church cannot offer adequate support for families “without a pro-active commitment through appropriate policies by governments and public agencies responsible for the protection and promotion of the common good," he continued. In particular, caring for people from conception to natural death “requires … creating, at the institutional level, the conditions which make this care possible.” The Cardinal warned against the “privatization of love,” a phenomenon in which “the Western world risks making the family a reality entrusted exclusively to the choices of the individual, totally detached from a regulatory and institutional framework.”
According to Ms. Gallagher, though, “the Church should avoid becoming just another voice on political policy … because it diverts our time, energy and commitment away from things we can and should do.” If we blame or shift responsibility to institutions outside of our control, “it leads to lethargy and inaction,” she added.
With regard to the “privatization of love,” Gallagher agreed that “we have a much reduced sense of the centrality of marriage to children and society.” But on a political level, “we have ‘publicized’ not privatized love in America and Europe in the sense that the government is now involved in regulating and supporting (and interfering with) families in strikingly extensive ways,” she noted. Ultimately, the Church needs to do the best it can within the governmental and societal framework in which it exists. We all hope that the Synod on the Family can help show us the way how.
Karee Santosis the co-author, together with her husband Manuel P. Santos, M.D., of a Catholic marriage advice book forthcoming from Ave Maria Press in 2016. She and her husband began teaching marriage preparation and enrichment classes in New York City in 2003. Karee has written numerous articles on marriage and family for the "National Catholic Register," "Faith & Family" magazine, and various Catholic websites. She also founded the online Catholic marriage support community Can We Cana?