Sunday, 10 July 2011

A matrimonial case from 1868

This is a translation from the report (in the Acta Sanctae Sedis, the forerunner of today's Acta Apostolicae Sedis) of a Catholic matrimonial case decided on 18 July 1868 by the Sacred Congregation of the Council.

"Matrimonial cases under the heading of impotence are much more common than other cases of the same type.  Very often, however, considerations of decency do not allow cases of this sort to be made public, even though this journal, being written in Latin, is directed only to members of the clergy, who ought to be aware of this material by reason of their duties in relation to the care of souls.  Nevertheless, so as not to exclude completely cases of this sort, we will give a few particulars, rather than whole narratives, of them whenever this can conveniently be done, so that rules might be derived from them for the proper handling of such cases....

Summary of the facts.  Marriage rites were duly performed between Caia, who was 17 years old, and Livius, who was 10 years older than Caia.  Both parties were distinguished by the virtue of their lives and had fallen much in love with each other.  For four years, the spouses habitually lived their lives in common.  Then, quarrels and dissensions arose: as a result, the wife went to live in her father's house, claiming that she could never again be reconciled with her husband.  The reason for this was as follows.  For two whole years, the spouses loved each other as they had done from the beginning of their marriage, and the young girl often gave unquestionable proofs of her love, especially in relation to a long sickness of her husband.  Because, however, her husband could not accomplish marital intercourse, Caia became very wearied by the trouble and inconvenience, and fell prey to a moral sickness, even though (as she affirmed) she had no experience of intercourse.  At length, she fell into grave sorrow, and this grew to the extent that she secretly took poison.  Her sister fortunately became aware of what she had done and discovered her stupidity, but she could not prevent her from suffering harm from the poison than she had consumed.  And so she became ill and gradually began to lose her strength.

Her father, with her husband's consent, took the girl to another city in the hope that the trip and the change of air would restore her health to its former state.  This, however, was not all that her father did out of concern for her: as soon as they arrived in the new city, he asked his daughter to visit A., an excellent doctor, with him.  He thought that, by following the advice given by the doctor, his daughter would be able to recover her health.

Caia was examined, unwillingly, by the doctor, who found that her virginity was still intact.  Her father was shocked by this unexpected news and succeeded in inducing the girl to tell him everything.  He then told his daughter that a contracted but unconsummated [ratum non consummatum] marriage of this sort could without doubt be dissolved by the authority of the Pope.

When Caia heard this, she was very happy.  It is said that she got up and quickly recovered her strength.  When all this became known to her husband, however, he went to the Bishop and asked him to take care of this serious matter.

The Bishop spoke to Caia many times and asked her to be reconciled with her husband: if they could not live their life as husband and wife, they should live under the same roof as brother and sister.  These admonitions, however, were in vain, since Caia regarded her husband as a nuisance and responded firmly that she had suffered enough agony and sickness.

The Bishop then suggested that the two spouses should agree to the following course of action.  The husband would undergo an examination by two qualified doctors, one of whom would be chosen by him and the other by Caia.  If these experts judged Livius to be fit, Caia would return to her husband.  If the matter was doubtful, they would try living together for another 15 days.  If, however, it was reported that the husband was unquestionably impotent, the spouses would, by mutual consent, beg the Holy Father for a dispensation from their contracted but unconsummated marriage.

In accordance with this plan, the experts subjected the husband to an examination and came to the conclusion that he was suffering from permanent and incurable impotence.  Nor was this all: Livius consulted another expert in addition, and he arrived at the same opinion.

When the Bishop had listened to the parties and carried out a brief enquiry, he sent all the documents to Rome, commending the petition of the spouses.

In accordance with custom, His Holiness ordered through the Sacred Conegrgation of the Council that the Bishop should complete the canonical process, observing the requirements of the constitution Dei miseratione of Pope Benedict XIV....

The spouses underwent a judicial examination, in accordance with the constitution of Pope Benedict and the sacred canons.  They stated under oath than they had stayed in an unconsummated marriage.  The testimony which is known in law as the septimae manus was produced: that is, 14 sworn witnesses were produced from the relatives and neighbours of each spouse, seven from the husband's and seven from the wife's.  These supported the testimony of the spouses.  Older women who had inspected Caia testified that she possessed her virginity intact.  However, five experts deputed by the curia declared that there were no signs of impotence on the body of the man, and affirmed that he could impregnate a woman without that woman suffering any particular injury.

When the proceedings of this process had been sent to Rome at its conclusion, the Bishop asked that, by reason of the spouses' poverty, the case be dealt with on an economical basis.  His Holiness graciously granted that the case be argued before the Sacred Congregation economically....



"Should His Holiness consider granting a dispensation in relation to this marriage, which was contracted and not consummated?"

Answer - The Sacred Congregation of the Council, having discussed the case on 18 July 1868, has decided to reply: Yes; and the husband is forbidden from entering into another marriage without informing the Sacred Congregation."