Álvaro GonzálezGood training helps to prevent marital breakups".

"The situations of pain in broken families, and the need for well-prepared professionals to assist those who wish to do so," have prompted a new Master's Degree, 80 % percent online, of Continuing Education in Matrimonial Law and Canonical Procedural Law, which the University of Navarra will offer in Madrid from September.

Francisco Otamendi-January 31, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
Master Álvaro González

The director and professor of the master's degree, Álvaro Gónzalez Alonso (Photo: Communication of Ecclesiastical Faculties).

Professor Álvaro González Alonso, academic director of the program, told Omnes that it is the only master's degree in Spain in this field of training that is mostly online and is approved by the Holy See. This allows, according to the official note, that it can be taken into account by the bishops as a qualification to perform specific functions in the ecclesiastical courts.

Statistics indicate that seven out of ten marriages break up today in Spain; and in other countries there are similar rates. The breakdowns allow Álvaro González to affirm that "we are living in complicated times", and "the knowledge of the reality of marriage as a natural institution is indispensable to deepen in the authentic identity of the family".

We talked to Professor González Alonso about marriage, breakups, cohabitation before marriage, causes of marriage annulment, and the master's degree. In his opinion, "the human being has a spousal dimension that has not been drowned by the environment".

What motivated the Faculty of Canon Law to organize this master's degree in Madrid?

-The main motive is the desire to serve the Church and society, in conformity with the Magisterium and the natural truth of marriage. Certainly we are living in difficult times and we often encounter painful situations in broken families. We are convinced that a good formation helps to prevent marital breakups and to improve support for spouses in their married life.

For this reason, the master's degree is integrated with pastoral care and directed to the service of married couples in their concrete reality, through competent professionals in this field. In short, the main motive is to serve the Church and society, helping to discover the human and Christian mystery of marriage and the family.

It seems frequent, in marriage breakup processes, that some spouses seek a civil divorce, and then, if they celebrated a religious wedding, ask for nullity in an ecclesiastical court, in order to remarry again in the Church. Are there professionals prepared to assist or accompany people in these situations?

-The situation described is undoubtedly a reality. The reasons may be varied and include both the initial lack of interest in following a canonical process, in some cases, and the practical dimension of resolving these difficulties from the legal point of view, with reference to the affective and economic family situation. In these circumstances, the presence of well-prepared professionals to assist those who wish to know the truth about their marriage is revealed as a pressing need, bearing in mind that knowledge of the juridical aspects of marriage, on many occasions, is part of the accompaniment of the Christian faithful.

Moreover, the process of declaration of nullity is a service to the marital vocation, since it is intended to serve the spouses in order to clarify or restore their state of life, with respect to God and to their spouse. Understanding this dimension of the marital vocation helps to see the usefulness of the canonical process.

Can you describe the main causes of nullity that are alleged in Spain? Regarding consent, do young people know the identity of Catholic marriage? Sometimes nullities are requested by couples who have been married for months.

-Each Tribunal will have its own experience regarding the causes it is called upon to hear, but it seems to be generalized that a considerable number of the canonical processes of matrimonial nullity refer to the psychic incapacity of the contracting parties, due to various anomalies and, in many processes, to the immaturity of one or both of them.

Immaturity in itself is not a cause of nullity, but it is relevant when it becomes a real psychic incapacity that prevents the granting of full matrimonial consent. Another widespread reason that is at the origin of numerous processes is the exclusion, on the part of one or both parties, of some of the properties or essential elements of marriage.

The early breakup of many marriages also responds, in part, to a lack of preparation and education: growth in human virtues, an adequate and profound concept of love, formation on the reality of marriage itself, a sense of commitment, having lived a good courtship dealing in depth with the fundamental issues of present and future life, etc.

At the same time, we also perceive the strength of marriage and how this aspect of natural law is still alive in every person. We could say that God's imprint on the institution of marriage is not in crisis and that marriage is engraved in human nature.

Does it influence the canonical process to have lived together before getting married, or to celebrate a marriage? marriage without the intention of having children?

-The experience of having lived together before, in many cases, is not good. The bride and groom could make this experiment out of insecurity, to convince themselves that the other is the right person... but it has a part of deception since, while they are not married, both are "on alert", ready to win and maintain the affection of the other, since the permanence is not assured. When taking the step after the marriage, sometimes this alertness relaxes and the misunderstandings begin.

That is to say, previous cohabitation is different from marital cohabitation, since temporariness and perpetuity are radically different experiences: the exclusivity of marriage goes beyond living as a couple. In fact, it is common for many women who live together to make marriage a requirement for their boyfriends in order to have a child. In this sense, previous cohabitation has an influence on marital histories, but not on the validity of a union. That said, if one were to state in what way cohabitation or not cohabitation previously affects, it can be perceived that marriages that do not cohabit are stronger and break up less.

On the other hand, those who come to the altar without the intention of having children, are excluding one of the purposes of marriage and, therefore, seeking a different reality of what marriage is. However, it is easy to perceive in most of the couples, both the desire for marriage to last a lifetime, as well as the desire to be parents. Here it can be seen that the human being has a spousal dimension that has not been watered down by the environment.

What does the Pope, and the recent regulations of the Holy See, ask of members of ecclesiastical tribunals to work and decide in nullity proceedings?

-The Holy Father has pushed hard for a reform of the processes of matrimonial nullity, with the idea of making it as easy as possible for those who want to know the truth about their marriage. In this 2015 reform, a series of measures were established to help the Tribunals to be closer to the faithful - both in physical distance and in human closeness - and to make the processes more agile and shorter.

The master's degree is also aimed at people working in the field of marriage mediation or in counseling tasks for couples in difficulty: mediators, lawyers, psychiatrists or psychologists...

-That's right. The curriculum has an interdisciplinary training dimension that makes it useful for those who develop other functions, in particular for those who have to accompany and guide married couples in this situation of difficulty or crisis. The objective is the specialization and updating of professionals who work or wish to work in ecclesiastical tribunals or in the counseling and guidance phase.

Therefore, the range of persons to whom it may concern is wide: the parish priests who have to assess the opportunity to offer the way to initiate a procedure of declaration of nullity; the lawyers who must file a lawsuit after hearing the husband or the wife; the judges, who will have to pass judgment taking into account what has been alleged and proven by the parties.

Finally, how is the master's program structured?

-From the beginning, the idea was to provide a practical, flexible and personalized learning experience, adapting it to the requirements of the Holy See for this type of program. The master's degree combines a didactic mix of online personal work (80 %) and face-to-face teaching (20 %), developed over an academic year, which is divided into two semesters, with a total of 60 ECTS.

Online learning involves individual student work, with the guidance and help of the teacher. It allows a personal organization of the pace of study and a personalized follow-up, essential in this type of teaching. Classroom teaching will be given intensively in two weeks -one at the beginning of the first semester and the other at the end of the second-, at the campus of the University of Navarra in Madrid.

In addition to the approval of the Holy See, the master's degree has a markedly international projection, due to the universality of canon law and the teaching method adopted.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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