JEAN-MARC BAHANS : Canon Lawyer, Defender of the Bond with the Interprovincial Tribunal of Bordeaux
The procedure for recognizing nullity – how do we talk to our children about this?
Fearing the reaction of their children often puts a brake on parents beginning the process. However, certain true and loving explanations are often enough to satisfy the children:
- Explain carefully to the child that this study by the Church on the validity of the marriage does not change at all the status of a child born from the love of the mum and dad who wanted the child. After all, not all their classmates necessarily have a mum and dad who have been married in the Church. We need to help our child to dissociate the notion of marriage from that of parenthood.
- Reassure the child that this procedure is not a new divorce – there is no conflict or clash between mum and dad!
- Tell the child also the truth, which is sought in this procedure, will be the source, whatever it may be, of peace and stability.
- Last but not least, convince the child that it will not change at all the relationship with Dad or Mum, and that he/she will always be their beloved child.
He is alive ! : What does it mean to ‘nullify a marriage’?
Jean-Marc Bahans: This is not a Catholic divorce where a marriage is terminated, but it is a recognition that a marriage has been celebrated, but was not valid. Sacramental marriage is the result of consent between the spouses where the object is to make a mutual gift of their persons to each other in order to constitute an indissoluble covenant. It is up to the Church to accept the act of will of the persons concerned and to say whether they have really consented to a true marriage.
He is alive ! : What are the most common cases that lead to the recognition of the invalidity of a marriage?
Jean-Marc Bahans: It often happens that the nullity of the marriage is declared from a serious lack of discernment on the part of the spouses (for example due to a serious emotional immaturity), or from a refusal to live an essential requirement of conjugal communion (fidelity, indissolubility, wanting the good of one’s spouse, being open to life). It can also be due to causes of a psychological nature (in particular a lack of freedom).
He is alive !: By simplifying the procedure, did not Pope Francis take the risk of ‘downgrading’ marriage?
Jean-Marc Bahans: Pope Francis did not change the reasons for nullity in a marriage and did not suppress the matrimonial court processes. He introduced three genuine novelties:
- The first allowed the Bishop to judge more quickly causes where invalidity is evident. This procedure is protected by serious safeguards – the joint application by the parties and its verification by the Judicial Vicar and the Defender of the Bond (a member of the tribunal responsible for the defence of marriage).
- The declaration of invalidity is effective from the first ruling. There is no longer an automatic appeal. The appeal needs a decision from the local Defender of the Bond or from the spouses.
- In order to recognize a greater value of the human conscience, this reform gives more importance to the statements of the parties when made under oath.