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Does Canon 1066 amount to a coin toss?

May 9, 2014

Canon 1066 (it seems out of fashion to quote canon law these days, but indulge me) states: “Before a marriage is celebrated, it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration”. Cdl Kasper’s shocking assertion, which he claims is the pope’s view, that half of all marriages are invalid, would, if true, indicate that Canon 1066 is being disregarded on an unprecedented scale.

Canon 1066 does not mean, of course, that every officiating cleric guarantees the validity of every Catholic wedding, but it does, at a minimum, oblige officiants to make an assessment of the parties commensurate with the burden they are taking on, namely, that of forming a partnership of the whole of life ordered to the good of the spouses and to the welfare of children (Canon 1055 § 1). If, therefore, as Kasper claims, half of all marriages (or even half of all Catholic marriages) are null, then the pre-wedding inquiry conducted in accord with Canon 1066 is a statistically pointless exercise that could just as well be replaced with a pastor’s toss of the coin. “Heads I marry y’all, tails I don’t.”

I worked in tribunals for ten years. I saw hundreds of null marriages—not all of them Catholic, many not even Christian, but hundreds nevertheless. I need no more proof that there are far too many null marriages (including many between Catholics who married in Catholic rites) to let us ignore the great crisis in marriage today. But to parlay “there are too many null marriages” into “half of all marriages are null” seems like hysteria to me.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Kasper (and the pope?) are right, maybe half of all marriages (or at least half of whatever kind of marriages the prelate has in mind) are null. What then?

Well, the first step (or the second, depending on whether one wishes first to know whether this dark view of marriage really is the pope’s) would be, I think, to ask for some evidence in support of such an astounding assertion. Is there a better time than now to present such evidence, if it exists? Surely those preparing for upcoming Synod on Marriage need to know whether the sacrament they are examining is being conferred invalidly as often as it is validly. But, if it turns out that there is no evidence for the claim that marriage is as often chimeric as it is real, then the immediate project shifts to one of repairing the damage done to the psyches of all those preparing for, or struggling in, marriage, damage done by telling such folks that their chances for nothing were as great as their chances for something.

Then, I trust, we can refocus on the real problems in marriage today and marriage law. Of which there are plenty.

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