Pope Benedict gathered the Roman Rota at the Vatican this morning to mark the end of the judicial year and to speak about marriage annulments involving mental incapacity.
The meeting was attended by the dean, judges, promoters of justice, defenders of the bond, officials and lawyers of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, also known as the Church’s court.
This issue raised by the Pope dealt with questions surrounding annulment cases that could involve mental incapacity on behalf of one of the spouses.
Noting that John Paul II also addressed the same issue in his meetings with the Roman Rota in 1987 and 1998, Pope Benedict said that John Paul II’s words "give us the basic criteria, not only for studying the psychiatric and psychological examinations, but also for the judicial definition of the causes."
The Code of Canon Law's norm concerning mental incapacity was further enriched, he noted, by the Instruction 'Dignitas connubii' of January 25, 2005.
Benedict XVI explained that certifying that a mental incapacity existed must meet specific conditions: "there must be a specific mental anomaly that seriously disturbs the use of reason at the time of the celebration of the marriage, ... or that puts the contracting party not only under a serious difficulty but even under the impossibility of sustaining the actions inherent in the obligations of marriage."
The Church must not fall into a pessimistic view of marriage that "considers marriage as almost impossible," the Holy Father warned.
"Reaffirming the inborn human capacity for marriage is, in fact, the starting point for helping couples discover the natural reality of marriage and the importance it has for salvation. What is actually at stake is the truth about marriage and about its intrinsic juridical nature, which is an indispensable premise if people are to understand and evaluate the capacity required to get married," the Pope said.
"Such capacity," he explained, "must be associated with the essential significance of marriage - 'the intimate partnership of married life and love established by the Creator and qualified by His laws' - and, particularly, with the essential obligations inherent to marriage that must assumed by the couple."
Finally, Pope Benedict cautioned the jurists about "certain 'humanistic' schools of anthropology, which tend towards self-realization and egocentric self- transcendence." These schools "idealize human beings and marriage to such an extent that they end up denying the mental capacity of many people, basing this on elements that do not correspond to the essential requirements of the conjugal bond."
"In principle, causes of nullity through mental incapacity require the judge to employ the services of experts to ascertain the existence of a real incapacity, which is in any case an exception to the natural principle of the capacity necessary to understand, decide and accomplish that giving of self upon which the conjugal bond is founded."