| Year 1991 Canonical Studies, pp. 52-97
(Fr. Augustine Mendonca)
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Marriage is not an abstract concept but a reality rooted I human nature. The need for companionship and its natural orientation towards offspring were recognized in the very creation of the human being. The human nature with its natural orientations becomes incarnate within concrete circumstances of God’s creation. It finds its unique expression in and through the particular socio-cultural conditions of time and place. Therefore it is not possible fully to understand the nature of marriage without first knowing how, in accordance with Gods design, it has taken its distinct form in diverse cultural contexts.

It was this aspect of marriage that was clearly emphasized by Pope John Paul in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio. In this document, he said: “Since God’s plan for marriage and the family touches men and women in the concreteness of their daily existence in specific social and cultural situations, the Church ought to apply herself to understanding the situations within which marriage and family are lived today, in order to fulfill her task of serving”.

There are two important points in the statement of the pope that are relevant to our reflections on the subject matter of our discussions of the week. First, marriage is a natural reality and it exists, is perceived, chosen and lived within a concrete socio-cultural milieu; and second, for this reason, effective pastoral care of marriage and family is not possible without understanding their concrete situations. That the pastoral care which the pope had in mind included also tribunal ministry is evident from the fact that he returned to the same theme in his Rotal allocution of 1991 where he said: “Precisely because it is a reality that is deeply rooted in human nature itself, marriage is affected by the cultural and historical conditions of every people. They have left their mark upon the institution of marriage. The Church, therefore, cannot prescind form the cultural milieu”. Applied to our tribunal ministry, this statement should naturally lead us to conclude that in examining marriage cases for possible declaration of nullity, judges cannot prescind form the cultural milieu of a concrete marriage before them.

Needless to say, a judge is the product of his/her own culture. This should be evident to us when we reflect on the important decisions we make in our own life, how those decisions are colored by our personal history and culture. Any decision a judge has to make will bear the stamp characteristic of that historical and cultural background. The moral certitude derived from the evidence, which is invariably tinged with the cultural peculiarities of the place and persons, can never be absolutely free form the influences of one’s own subjective perception and disposition. What Emilio Colagiovanni says in this

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