With around 17,000 divorce cases filed in family courts across the state last year, the reality called short marriages among Keralites cannot be wiped out. And it is a phenomenon that transcends religious boundaries. But lay people find it difficult, juggling between the provisions of the canon law of the Catholic Church and the interpretations of civil law.
Granted, a few thousand couples heading to Splitsville may not have a serious impact on the church with hundreds of thousands of believers. But the number of faithful asking for the annulment of the marriage is increasing. According to statistics available from the Family Commission of the Kerala Catholic Council of Bishops (KCBC), there are an average of 100 marriage annulment petitions pending before each Catholic Diocese in the state.
“There are 30 Catholic dioceses in the state. The number of petitions pending before various diocesan courts is around 3000,” the father said. Jose Kottayil, secretary of the KCBC Family Commission. The number varies from a low of 60 in Ernakulam-Angamali Diocese to a surprisingly high number of 500 in Kanjirappally Diocese.
Today, the family apostolate of the Syro-Malabar Church Archdiocese of Changanassery has launched a post-marriage course for newly married couples which is said to be the first initiative of its kind.
“The first three years after marriage are a crucial period in the life of a couple,” explains the father. Cyriac Kottayil, director of the family apostolate of the Diocese of Changanassery Arch. According to him, the relationship between a man and a woman can improve if they receive proper counseling after marriage. “A Catholic, who has obtained a divorce through the civil court, can remarry by registering the marriage. But he will only be blessed by the Church after the annulment of the previous marriage by the diocesan court,” the father said. James Pereppadan, canon law expert and judge of the Metropolitan Court of Ernakulam Angamali Archdiocese.
“The procedure can be completed in just eight sessions if both parties cooperate. In many cases, the situation worsens when parents and relatives intervene in the problem. Second, our young people have a good IQ, but they lack emotional quotient, which often causes relationship discord,” he added.
Prof. Biji Koyipally, who is an advisor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies, Thuruthy, Changanassery, had a different take on the matter. “The financial security achieved by women is a catalyst. Worse still, the relatively weak spiritual life among young people,” he added.
Meanwhile, the indefinite delay in reporting verdicts on marriage annulment petitions in the apostolate courts of Catholic churches is forcing many candidates to remarry who are not celebrated by the church. The Catholic Church does not solemnize a remarriage if the Apostolic Court does not approve the petition for annulment, even after the plaintiffs have been granted a divorce by the civil court. As a result, many young Catholic men and women are increasingly turning to civil registry offices to register their remarriage and “live in sin” until the church gives official approval.
“I chose to get a registered marriage because the apostolate court can take several months to render a verdict on my application. There are about 500 candidates waiting to obtain a decree from the diocese. So I have no choice but to get married in a registry office,” said Stephy, a candidate in a Catholic diocese in marriage annulment.
There is another problem that remains unanswered. According to canon law, the courts only have the power to declare a marriage void, which means that the marriage is defective from the day of the marriage itself. This goes against the terms of reference in the case of a divorce, where the marriage is annulled on the day the divorce is granted.
“The Apostle Court works according to Canon Law and it has to go through many procedures before declaring a marriage annulled. the archdiocese. The normal process can take 12 to 18 months. It is not fair to blame the church alone for the delay in the verdict as many candidates will not appear in court within the allotted days for various reasons” , said Fr. Thomas Vithayathil, Judicial Vicar of the Major Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamali.
More than 100 applications for marriage annulment are being reviewed by the Major Archdiocese and there are also applications from the Dioceses of Kothamangalam and Idukki under it for final approval. The lack of experts in canon law is reported to be another reason for the delay in the procedure.
With cancellation comes illegitimacy
According to Alex Fr Alex Vadakkumthala, President of Canon Law Society of India, the marriage sought to be annulled will be considered invalid from the day it was solemnized. “It would be as if the marriage had never taken place. There will be practical difficulties regarding the identity of their children,” he said.
They would be left behind because the children cannot take the name of their parents because the marriage of the latter no longer exists in the parish registers. “They would be considered ‘orphans’ for being born out of wedlock once the marriage is annulled,” said Joseph Pulikkunnel, director of the Indian Institute of Christian Studies.
Canon Law expert and Metropolitan Court Judge of Ernakulam Angamali Archdiocese Prof. James Pereppadan said the Catholic Church does not allow divorce under any circumstances. “The number of those seeking marriage annulment as a percentage of church worshipers is negligible. But the children of those who have their marriage annulled are considered illegitimate and born out of wedlock by the church,” he said. The church does not intervene in matters such as financial settlement as these are handled by the civil court, he added.
“To declare a verdict according to canon law, you need a lot of knowledge about the subject and theology. The person must have degrees in Canon Law and Church Law to become a judge in the Tribunal of the Apostolate. Unfortunately, the church at present does not have as many experts in this area. The creation of more apostolic courts is the only solution to end this delay in the proclamation of verdicts in overdue petitions,” the father said. Vithayathil added.
When your marriage annulment application has been tagged waitlist #450, in all likelihood, it could be over two years before the process is complete. It’s no wonder, then, that many young Catholic remarriage aspirants pursue compulsory divorce in civil court through a registered marriage, rather than waiting for the green flag from the church.
But this raises several issues. Among them, there are two sets of problems. The couple are deemed married in the eyes of the church as their previous marriage has not yet been annulled. According to canon law, if the remarriage of the divorced occurs without annulling the old marriage, the church considers them to be indulging in concubinage and thus committing a sin.
“Such people cannot lead an active church life. They cannot receive Holy Communion. But they are not banned from attending church services,” said Paul Thelekkat, Spokesperson for Ernakulam-Angamaly Arch Diocese.
In such cases, they are treated like people of other religions who are allowed to attend church services but cannot receive Holy Communion because they are not Catholic.