Sentence of Nov 7, 1991 (Dublin) (c. 1095) (In Iure only)

Consensual incapacity under c. 1095, 2º and 3º derives from some grave defect in a person's intellectual or volitive faculties which impede sufficient awareness of the essential matrimonial rights and duties, and/or sufficient freedom in choosing marriage. Given man's natural tendency to marriage, such incapacity evidently constitutes an anomaly that can arise only where a person's consensual faculties are affected by some some extraordinary inadequacy (cf. decis. 18 iulii 1991, coram infrascripto, in una Vayne Castren.-South-Benden., n. 3).

            In his addresses to the Rota of both 1987 and 1988, Pope John Paul II dealt with consensual incapacity under c. 1095. Without distinguishing nos. 2 or 3 of the canon, he insisted that incapacity must be the result of a grave anomaly affecting man's spiritual faculties - mind or will. The Pope's words leave no doubt that, prescinding from technical or medical classifications, only a serious disorder or pathology of the human «psyche» can invalidate consent. "An argument for real incapacity can be entertained only in the presence of a serious form of anomaly which, however one chooses to define it, must substantially undermine the capacity of understanding and/or of willing of the contracting party" (AAS 79 (1987) 1457); "only the more serious forms of psychopathology are capable of undermining the substantial freedom of the person" (AAS 80 (1988) 1182).

            No. 2 of c. 1095, which is the provision pertinent to the present case, lays down: "*". In order to demonstrate the nullity of a marriage under this provision, two things above all must be established: a) the gravity of the anomalous defect of discretion; b) the essentiality of the marital obligations whose appreciation this condition impeded.

            Church law indicates a minimum age which creates a presumption of capacity for marriage. Men and women, after the ages of 16 and 14 respectively, are presumed to have sufficient powers of discernment and choice for valid consent. No doubt young persons should be discouraged from marrying at such an early age - precisely because to marry involves such a serious step. Yet the law recognizes their legal right to marry then; and, barring clear proof to the contrary, the presumption of the minimum capacity for valid consent must stand. On the basis of experience, the Church might by positive law increase the age requirement; but unless this is done, one could not legitimately work from a presumption that a higher age is necessary; to do so would be to violate both the existing law and people's ecclesial rights.

            It follows that proof of a person's being "immature" at the time of the marriage is in no way sufficient to show that he or she suffered from a grave and invalidating lack of discretion. At the age of 17 or 19 any adolescent is almost certain to show signs of "immaturity" - an immaturity that is relative and proper to their age. But the presumption of the law is that, at that age and with that relative immaturity, they possess sufficient discretion and capacity for marriage. The opposite demands strict proof - which is not achieved unless it is shown beyond reasonable doubt that the degree of intellective or volitive immaturity was so out of the ordinary as to be rightly described as pathological.

7.         Young age is an argument against the prudence of a marriage more than against its validity. What seems to others to be an imprudently contracted marriage can be perfectly valid; and often enough such marriages work out well. But even the subsequent verification of the imprudence of the marriage (if it comes) is in itself no proof of invalidity.

            So, the discretion required for marriage should not be confused with the ability to make a wise choice of a husband or wife. No one has the right to find a suitable partner; therefore (prescinding from cases which can fall under c. 1097, § 2 or c. 1098) no right has been violated if a person makes a mistaken judgment of the character of the other. There are thus no grounds in justice or law for a person to seek redress before the Courts for such a mistaken judgment. The suitability of one party to another is not a matter for a Court of law.

8.         Discretion is not very accurately described as "the capacity of the petitioner to appreciate in a real way what marriage was, along with its implications" (cf. the Sentence in second instance: Acts, II, 18). To be relevant under c. 1095, 2, discretion must always relate to the essential rights/obligations of marriage. And it would seem that rights/obligations cannot be essential unless they are common or reciprocal as between the spouses (such as unity, procreativity and permanence undoubtedly are). It is therefore doubtful if an obligation such as household administration - "paying of bills, etc." - can be regarded as essential. It is certainly important to conjugal life; but there are serious difficulties to considering it an essential obligation, within the terms of c. 1095; above all because it is not of itself a common obligation, there being nothing to prevent it becoming the obligation of the husband in one marriage, or of the wife in another.

9.         Psychological evaluations will be of little or no worth to ecclesiastical tribunals unless they are based on christian terms of reference. In his Address to the Roman Rota in 1987, Pope John Paul II remarked that "Certe correnti della psicologia contemporanea... si muovono sotto la spinta di presupposti antropologici non conciliabili con l'antropologia cristiana" (AAS 79 (1987) 1454). In the present case, the Judges of second instance concluded to the petitioner's [invalidating] immaturity, largely on the basis of the expert's judgment that she had "a very introverted personality", as a result of which she found "the establishment of identity particularly difficult" and "never really had a chance to become an independent person in her own right" (II, 18). Christian and secular psychology would probably disagree on what shows a person to be "independent" or "free" (for the Christian, acceptance of the truth of Christ is essential to becoming free; cf. Jn 8, 32). Again, the idea of "establishing one's own sense of identity" has to be refined in view of the basic christian principle that a person finds self by losing self. In any case, it is nowhere laid down that a person must have a strong sense of identity, individuality or independence, in order to be capable of consenting to marriage. Shy and reserved persons may perhaps have a weak sense of personal identity; but neither they, nor persons suffering from e.g. an inferiority complex, are thereby rendered incapable of matrimonial consent.

10.       The advocate for the petitioner in the present case argues that fear from within ("metus ab intrinseco") should be accepted as a motive of grave lack of discretion: "Further determination of lack of internal freedom under c. 1095 demands that the nullity of marriage should be declared because of fear inflicted from within". This opinion does not withstand analysis. Fear from within ("nemine cogente": under compulsion from no other person) comes from internally weighing the consequences of marrying or not. A person may conclude that it is better to marry, because he or she fears the alternative. For instance one decides to marry out of fear of missing what may prove to be a last opportunity for marriage, or of losing a share in one's partner's social standing or even in his or her money. Such fear constitutes part of the motive for marrying: the person's choice, so motivated, may be praiseworthy or not, but it is certainly free. For nothing - except one's own reflections - determines the will to choose marriage. Every choice is between alternatives, and is guided by motives. The chooser sees advantages and disadvantages, profit and loss, according to the choice made; all of which naturally influences his decision. Fear of making the wrong choice is present in every human decision. To say that a decision, to be truly human, must be free of every fear, even "ab intrinseco", is therefore to ignore the real working of man's freedom.