Yesterday, the Holy Father gave his annual address to the Roman Rota. These speeches tend to be combinations of pep talks for the Rota as it begins its new term and careful discussions of points of law by the pope. Accordingly, these speeches are very important sources for the interpretation of canon law. The speeches, for example, of St. John Paul II are hugely important sources on matrimonial law, given that John Paul addressed, over the course of years, quite a few thorny questions on the subject. We had hoped that the Holy Father would address Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, the Holy Father’s motu proprio reforming matrimonial cases, which, for now, is his most important contribution to the Church’s law. We were not disappointed.
One question arising from Mitis iudex has been to what extent is lack of faith a ground for nullity. Recall that article 14 § 1 of the Ratio Procedendi annexed to Mitis iudex states:
Inter rerum et personarum adiuncta quae sinunt causam nullitatis matrimonii ad tramitem processus brevioris iuxta cann. 1683-1687 pertractari, recensentur exempli gratia: is fidei defectus qui gignere potest simulationem consensus vel errorem voluntatem determinantem, brevitas convictus coniugalis, abortus procuratus ad vitandam procreationem, permanentia pervicax in relatione extraconiugali tempore nuptiarum vel immediate subsequenti, celatio dolosa sterilitatis vel gravis infirmitatis contagiosae vel filiorum ex relatione praecedenti vel detrusionis in carcerem, causa contrahendi vitae coniugali omnino extranea vel haud praevisa praegnantia mulieris, violentia physica ad extorquendum consensum illata, defectus usus rationis documentis medicis comprobatus, etc.
(Emphasis supplied.) In the Vatican’s official translation, this is rendered,
Among the circumstances of things and persons that can allow a case for nullity of marriage to be handled by means of the briefer process according to cann. 1683-1687, are included, for example: the defect of faith which can generate simulation of consent or error that determines the will; a brief conjugal cohabitation; an abortion procured to avoid procreation; an obstinate persistence in an extraconjugal relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately following it; the deceitful concealment of sterility, or grave contagious illness, or children from a previous relationship, or incarcerations; a cause of marriage completely extraneous to married life, or consisting of the unexpected pregnancy of the woman, physical violence inflicted to extort consent, the defect of the use of reason which is proved by medical documents, etc.
(Emphasis supplied.) Now, obviously, article 14 § 1 refers to situations that “can allow a case for nullity to be handled” according to the processus brevior. But there has been some concern that article 14 § 1 also sets forth grounds for nullity. (To put it another way, article 14 § 1 sets forth some “red flags” for cases to be transferred to the processus brevior, and thus those “red flags” have been seen by some as grounds of manifest nullity (cf. can. 1683, 2º.) And these new grounds would include, of course, lack of faith. In fact, the criterion of lack of faith has been offered as a justification for the argument that half of all marriages are null, a sentiment that has been attributed to the Holy Father.
In his speech to the Rota, the Holy Father offers a refreshing correction to that idea,
È bene ribadire con chiarezza che la qualità della fede non è condizione essenziale del consenso matrimoniale, che, secondo la dottrina di sempre, può essere minato solo a livello naturale (cfr CIC, can. 1055 § 1 e 2). Infatti, l’habitus fidei è infuso nel momento del Battesimo e continua ad avere influsso misterioso nell’anima, anche quando la fede non è stata sviluppata e psicologicamente sembra essere assente. Non è raro che i nubendi, spinti al vero matrimonio dall’instinctus naturae, nel momento della celebrazione abbiano una coscienza limitata della pienezza del progetto di Dio, e solamente dopo, nella vita di famiglia, scoprano tutto ciò che Dio Creatore e Redentore ha stabilito per loro. Le mancanze della formazione nella fede e anche l’errore circa l’unità, l’indissolubilità e la dignità sacramentale del matrimonio viziano il consenso matrimoniale soltanto se determinano la volontà (cfr CIC, can. 1099). Proprio per questo gli errori che riguardano la sacramentalità del matrimonio devono essere valutati molto attentamente.
(Emphasis supplied.) In the translation available from Rorate Caeli, in the context of an article by Antonio Socci, this is rendered,
It is a good thing to reiterate that quality of faith is not an essential condition for matrimonial consent, which, according to perennial doctrine, may be undermined only on the natural level (cfr CIC, can. 1055 § 1 e 2). Indeed, the habitus fidei is infused at the moment of Baptism and continues to have a mysterious influx in the soul, even when faith has not been developed and seems psychologically to be absent. It is not rare that those preparing for marriage, induced into a true marriage by instinctus naturae, at the time of the celebration have a limited awareness of the fullness of God’s plan, and only afterwards, in family life, discover all that God [Our] Creator and Redeemer has established for them. The lack of formation in the faith and also the error about unity, the indissolubility and the sacramental dignity of marriage vitiate marriage consent only if it is determined by the will (cfr CIC, can. 1099). For this reason the errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very carefully.
(Emphases and italics added.) (We think that there’s an error in translation, both with our limited Italian skills and from looking at the English portion of Mitis iudex, in the second emphasized passage. Check out the linked translation at Rorate.) It seems to us that the Holy Father moves here to explicitly reject the broad interpretation of Mitis iudex that lack of faith or lack of formation in the faith constitutes ipso facto a ground for nullity.