Tom Kington in Rome
Monday January 29, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI has warned Vatican judges to get tough on couples who ask the Catholic Church to annul their marriages.
The Pope ordered the clampdown after new figures showed that the church's appeals court allowed 69 annulments in 2005 for reasons which included husbands being too attached to their mothers.
The court, known as the Sacra Rota, considers petitions from couples claiming their marriages were never truly valid. Apart from the get-out clause for women married to "mummy's boys", an "inability to assume conjugal obligations", usually due to a childhood trauma, appears among the successful reasons for annulment in 2005, as do alcoholism, use of cannabis, infidelity and a serious lack of "moderation in judgment" by a partner, meaning jealousy or a propensity to lie.
The Vatican does not permit divorcees to remarry in church and a growing number of annulment requests are winding their way from lower ecclesiastical courts to the appeals court in Rome, with the majority Italian, followed by requests from America and Poland. Princess Caroline of Monaco was able to annul her 1978 marriage to Philippe Junot on the grounds that they had produced no children.
But the Pope appeared to take a hard line on Saturday when he told the court's 20 judges to "respond with courage and faith" to "a distorted interpretation of the canonical norms in force".
He has repeatedly criticised the Italian government's plans for a law defining rights for unmarried couples. The institution of marriage, he said, was in danger of becoming no more than a legal agreement, "manipulated at will", and "even denied of its heterosexual character".
The Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, said on Saturday that a bill on civil unions was close to completion.
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