The Archbishop’s Curia would not oppose a review of the Church-state agreement that grants supremacy to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal in matters of marriage annulments.
A spokesman said the Church would “look positively” at enhancing “specific elements” of the agreement, especially now that a divorce law was being discussed in Parliament and which could lead to “various new (legal) scenarios”.
“It is up to these two parties (the Holy See and the Republic of Malta) to assess whether it is in their interest to review the agreement in place or not,” he said when asked whether the Church favoured a review of the agreement.
“If specific elements in the agreement could be enhanced, resulting in an authentic benefit for those resorting to the present agreement, the Church would look positively upon such real improvements,” the spokesman said.
He continued: “Particularly at the current junction, while still awaiting the final outcome of the legislative process for a local divorce law, from a legal point of view, various new scenarios could develop and the Church in Malta is confident that they will be duly addressed by both signatories of the current agreement through the proper channels.”
Several MPs have called for a revision of the 1995 accord, which gives the Ecclesiastical Tribunal precedence over the civil courts in annulment cases.
The agreement stipulates that annulment proceedings before the civil courts should stop if either one of the spouses decides to take the case to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
According to the Church spokesman, however, the agreement generally avoids couples married in Church after 1993 and facing marital crises from having to undergoing a double procedure for the declaration of nullity of their marriage in both the ecclesiastical and civil fora.
They would be saved from going through the trauma of court litigation twice over and having to fork out further expenses. The state normally recognised the civil effects of the decisions made by the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, he said.
The issue came to fore after the Church tribunal suspended lawyer Deborah Schembri prior to the divorce referendum because of her role in the pro-divorce movement.
Dr Schembri’s suspension raised concern in legal circles, with Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil questioning whether the Church’s actions were in harmony with the fundamental human right to have a fair trial and to be assisted by a lawyer of one’s choice.
Dr Busuttil argued that the fact that annulment decisions taken by the Church tribunal also had civil effects meant it had to adhere to the standards of human rights the state was in duty-bound to guarantee.
This point was also addressed by the Curia spokesman who explained that, in following its mission, the Church was committed, through its structures and in the best way possible, to enhance the respect for human rights, particularly those enshrined in the Constitution.
“If both Church and state aim at promoting fundamental human rights, thus guaranteeing the respect and dignity deserved by each person, this can be achieved even more through a healthy dialogue and collaboration by both. Such dialogue cannot be based on mere ideology, nor can it be inconsiderate of the other’s nature and role. It has to constantly focus on the real good of every person and respect all those conditions that render each person more human,” the Church spokesman said.